Aldermen are meeting with officials from the Mayor’s Office this week for briefings on the administration’s planned reforms to increase police oversight. Aldermen who attended those briefings told Aldertrack there was no ordinance language distributed, just a one page handout that mirrors the Mayor’s “next steps” for police reform outlined in an op-ed in the Sun-Times on May 13.

In that editorial, Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised to “have the final details worked out on a comprehensive plan to fundamentally reshape our system of police accountability” ready for introduction at the full City Council meeting on June 22, with input from the Department of Justice, experts in the field, and aldermen. The Mayor promised to scrap the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) and create a new public safety auditor position.

According to the handout, the administration’s guiding principles for the new police accountability ordinance include:

  • Civilian oversight “that is independent and more transparent”

  • An independent Public Safety Inspector General with “authority to audit and monitor the entire discipline system”

  • A Civilian Police Investigation Agency (CPIA) to replace IPRA

  • A Community Safety Oversight Board (CSOB) to “give a voice to Chicago residents whose lives are affected daily by police practices.”

At public CSOB meetings, each discipline agency, CPIA and the Public Safety Inspector General, as well as the Chicago Police Department’s existing Bureau of Internal Affairs and the Chicago Police Review Board, would report on data and major incidents.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10), who attended one of yesterday’s briefings with a handful of colleagues, said there’s “nothing set in stone,” yet, “no language was distributed,” and said it was more of an “information gathering session,” with lots of questions from aldermen.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), who was also briefed yesterday, said officials with the Mayor’s Office suggested a hybrid of elected and appointed officials to serve on the CSOB. Like Garza, he said there were no concrete proposals. “They wanted to hear ideas from us in order to incorporate it into the ordinance,” he said.  

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) seemed less than impressed with the briefing, telling Aldertrack in a text message, “Not much in it.”

Shown the handout given to aldermen at briefings, police reform watchers largely say the devil will be in the details, especially on how board members and leaders of new agencies can maintain independence from the political process, and whether IPRA’s replacement will have the funding it needs to investigate effectively.

“It looks good, but I think the devil’s going to be in the details on this civilian oversight thing,” said Anton Seals, Jr., a Community and Neighborhood Coordinator at DePaul University. He said those most affected by police misconduct should serve on the board. Picking truly independent leadership to serve as the Inspector General or head of the CPIA will also prove difficult, says Seals. “The trick there is because this is so political, how do you find an honest voice?”

Karen Sheley, Director of the Police Practices Project at the ACLU of Illinois said her initial reaction was generally positive, but “the real question is not so much on this page but what’s gonna be in the details of whatever ordinance gets proposed.” She says she’d like to know the scope of jurisdiction for IPRA’s replacement, how the heads of each agency will be empowered to act independently, how long appointments will last, and whether there will be more funding for the new investigative agency. “Are they willing to tie a percentage of the funding to CPD?”

Richard Wooten, a retired police officer and Police Accountability Task Force working group member, said he’d love to see a percentage of the police department budget dedicated to CPIA. Investigative power without resources is “like putting a lame duck out there and saying go to work,” he told Aldertrack.

“Of course it’s not enough, with such a broken system,” activist Ja’Mal Green said. “They are steps towards changing things. But [Mayor Emanuel] just wants to try to win people over.” While the civilian board is “big” he believes bigger change is needed. “I want IPRA dismantled, the Police Board dismantled. I don’t want Rahm appointing anyone to any boards. We want something that is really independent.”