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Plan to create board that could fire Chicago officers could get vote

Backers of a proposal to give an elected board power to investigate and fire Chicago cops threatened to force a vote

By John Byrne
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Backers of a long-shot proposal to give an elected board power to investigate and fire Chicago police officers threatened Thursday to force a vote on their idea, resurfacing a third option into an ongoing debate about civilian oversight of city police.

The Civilian Police Accountability Commission ordinance has been languishing in a City Council committee since summer 2016, and it almost certainly lacks the aldermanic support to approach the 26 votes needed to pass the 50-member body.

Still, Northwest Side Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, said Thursday he intends to use a parliamentary procedure to bring it to aldermen for an up-or-down vote. He said he was prompted to act when the mayor’s hand-picked Public Safety Committee chairman, Northwest Side Ald. Ariel Reboyras, 30th, introduced his own police oversight ordinances. Ramirez-Rosa called them inadequate.

“The reality here is that we know that Mayor Rahm Emanuel controls the Chicago City Council,” Ramirez-Rosa said at a City Hall news conference. “We know he appoints the chairs of our committees. And we know the committee chairs do not do anything without coordinating with the fifth floor. So the demand here is coming forth from the public, and the demand is that we have a real conversation about police accountability reform.”

Members of the Civilian Police Accountability Commission that Ramirez-Rosa supports would be elected from each of the city’s 22 police districts. They’d have their own staffs and the power to investigate police misconduct. Findings could be referred to federal grand juries for possible criminal indictments against police officers.

The full board could fire officers and would hire the Police Department superintendent. It would replace most of the city bureaucracy currently in place to oversee the Police Department.

Ramirez-Rosa said that while he prefers his plan, he also could live with a competing one from the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability. Under its proposal, the police superintendent and command staff would continue to run the day-to-day operations of the department, but the commission would have final say on policy decisions.

More controversial is the alliance’s recommendation that the commission be able to fire the superintendent, a decision currently left to only the mayor. The commission’s oversight would extend beyond the Police Department to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates police misconduct allegations, and the Chicago Police Board, which decides discipline.

While the alliance proposal gives the commission no authority to review individual disciplinary decisions by COPA, it would have the power to hire and fire the head of that police oversight agency as well as the head of and members of the Police Board. Those hiring decisions would be subject to City Council confirmation.

After the alliance came forth with its framework last month following two years of community meetings on the topic, Reboyras introduced two police oversight ordinances of his own to the City Council.

Reboyras’ documents envision an oversight board more advisory in nature. Under his plans, the members would be appointed by some combination of the mayor, the City Council and other commissioners, rather than by publicly elected councils in each police district. Neither of Reboyras’ proposals gives the board power to fire the superintendent.

Ramirez-Rosa said he would time his move to force a floor vote on his plan to when Reboyras’ ordinances also come up. That could take a while. The Emanuel administration could try to find a way to combine proposals to create a single oversight package that allows him to keep as much control as possible, while also incorporating parts of the community-driven plan so the mayor can say he listened to their ideas.

Emanuel has not publicly taken a position on the competing police oversight plans, saying he would leave it to the City Council to debate the proposals’ merits.

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