The Committee on Public Safety advanced Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appointment of former federal prosecutor and Chicago Police investigator Lori Lightfoot as President of the Chicago Police Board, an independent body that decides disciplinary action against police accused of misconduct. But that support didn’t come without some concern from three new aldermen on the committee who asked Lightfoot to detail her plans to make the Police Board more transparent and the relationship between police and residents more amicable.
Committee Members Present: Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30), Gregory Mitchell (7), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Ed Burke (14), David Moore (17), Matt O’Shea (19), Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27), Chris Taliaferro (29), Ald. Carrie Austin (34), Nick Sposato (38), Anthony Napolitano (41)
“I ask of you of this one request: treat each and every case with an open mind. Do not view or investigate anybody with a preconceived notion of guilt,” newly elected alderman and former police officer Anthony Napolitano (41) told Lightfoot. Speaking from a prepared statement, Ald. Napolitano told Lightfoot that, “We are now living in a society where the almighty lawsuit rules the country” and numerous “fraudulent cases” filed against police officers around the county have caused police to be “more reactive and less proactive.”
During her testimony, Lightfoot noted her nomination comes at such a “pivotal national and local time” when cases of police misconduct regularly make national headlines.
“I am committed to doing my part to make sure there is constructive dialogue. Many of our communities are hurting,” Lightfoot told the committee, noting that while the Police Board plays an “important but limited role” as an impartial decision maker, she’ll do what she can to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency. She emphasized and repeated those goals throughout the nearly 40 minute committee meeting. She also highlighted the importance of the Board’s monthly public meetings because she believes those interactions provide accountability and they help board members “learn how its decisions impact the public.”
Another former police officer on the committee, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29), said after attending several of those meetings over the last nine years, he’s seen room for improvement. He asked Lightfoot if she considered moving the meetings from the public safety building to a more “neutral zone” as a way to improve dialogue with the public. Lightfoot said she couldn’t think of another venue.
Ald. Taliaferro, who campaigned on a promise to improve community policing in his ward, which includes the Austin neighborhood, also lamented that the disconnect between the city’s police department and his community is at the worst level he has seen during his 21 years as a police officer. He blamed past decisions made by the Police Board as one of the root causes.
But no alderman on the committee had more questions for Lightfoot than Ald. David Moore (17), who grilled Lightfoot on everything from her thoughts on increasing diversity within the CPD to how the board would handle a police officer caught lying under oath.
Lightfoot told Moore if there is evidence an officer has lied, they should be terminated. “There is a lie, you die rule across the country,” Lightfoot said.
When Ald. Moore asked Lightfoot if she believed the Police Board was representative of the city, she responded that was a “tough question,” adding that the board “isn’t just a bunch of lay people.” Moore pressed her, asking how the board could remain impartial if everyone is appointed by the Mayor. Lightfoot said there is a significant amount of transparency in how the board makes its decisions and reminded him that everything the board does is disseminated to the public.
If the full City Council approves her nomination at the end of the month, it won’t be Lightfoot’s first job with the City of Chicago. Former Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard recruited Lightfoot from the US Attorney’s Chicago office in 2002 to head the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS), where she investigated cases of police misconduct. The City replaced OPS in 2007 with what is currently the investigative arm of the police department, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). After two years as Chief Administrator for OPS, Lightfoot worked in the City’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication (OEMC), and eventually migrated over to the Office of Procurement Services. Following her tenure with the City, Lightfoot went back to private practice and has since worked with the law firm Mayer Brown.
The Police Board is made up of nine members appointed by the Mayor and approved by the City Council. In addition to Lightfoot’s appointment, Mayor Emanuel has also asked the council to approve two new appointments, John Simpson and Claudia Valenzuela, and to re-appoint William Conlon.
Simpson is a partner at Broadhaven Capital Partners and spent $77,800 to get Mayor Emanuel re-elected in 2015.
Valenzuela is an Associate Director of Litigation at the Heartland Alliance National Immigration Justice Center, an organization that provides legal services to immigrants, and Conlon is a partner at Sidley Austin, LLP.