An intergovernmental agreement between the city and the agency that oversees McCormick Place and Navy Pier to employ off-duty police officers for security at private events received a significant amount of pushback from a few aldermen on the Public Safety Committee as they expressed worry that the city would foot the bill for any police overtime incurred.
While the agreement between the city and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) eventually passed in committee, with Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29), a former police officer, as the sole no vote, Committee Chair Ariel Reboyras (30) had to temporarily recess the meeting to iron out some of the issues with aldermen, MPEA officials and the police department.
MPEA was seeking approval to reinstate and amend an agreement first approved by the Council in 1996 that lets the agency hire off-duty Chicago police officers for private events or conventions at Navy Pier. Currently, MPEA employs about 35 plain clothes police officers, but not all work at the same time. The amended agreement would give those officers the option of wearing their uniform while providing security, in addition to extending the terms to McCormick Place.
Michael Merchant, Director of Governmental Affairs for the MPEA, said officers working at Navy Pier are considered MPEA employees, paid by the pier authority at $30-an-hour and hired under a 1099 form as “independent contractors”.
According to Merchant, customer advisory boards, which organize shows and conventions at McCormick Place, requested the extra security. “They asked us if there was something we could do to engage the Chicago Police Department to be present at some of the shows. They are willing to pay these officers for their services,” he explained, adding that the convention operators would pay MPA. In turn, MPA would compensate the police officers.
But Ald. Willie Cochran (20), a former police officer, took issue with the fact that the city would bear the cost of compensating an officer for overtime incurred for court appearances should the officer arrest anyone while working security for the pier. “The city should not have to take the burden of paying any expenses associated with officers working in the capacity for the Pier Authority. Why would our budget have to be challenged on that when you have a budget of your own?” Ald. Cochran asked.
Police overtime has been a huge sticking point for aldermen during budget negotiations, as the police department has, at least in the past two years, underestimated overtime expenses by tens of millions of dollars.
Ryan Nelligan with the Chicago Police Department said the bill would go to CPD, because once an officer has “taken police action”, they’re on-duty and covered under the police contract. That Fraternal Order of Police contract includes a clause detailing how much officers must be compensated for court appearances. Merchant added that the agreement aligns with CPD’s secondary employment policy, although Ald. Cochran questioned why no one from the FOP was on hand to testify.
Nelligan explained that the agreement between the Pier Authority and the police department is unlike other intergovernmental agreements the department has with the Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Transit Authority, mainly because MPEA will have to take out a $10 million liability insurance plan to cover uniformed police officers. The City and CPD are listed as co-insurers. But as soon as any of those off-duty police officers takes police action, whether it be an arrest or firing their gun, city liability kicks in, Nelligan explained.
Ald. Cochran, Ald. Taliaferro, and Ald. Carrie Austin (34) also expressed concern that hiring preference would be given to officers in the First Police District, where Navy Pier is located. A former police commander from that district, George Rosebrock, heads security at Navy Pier. But aldermen questioned the fairness of giving those officers priority. Ald. Taliaferro, who had to go to another committee meeting, requested that Chairman Reboyras defer the item until that issue was clarified. Reboyras, instead, chose to recess the meeting for five minutes so aldermen could convene privately with Merchant and Nelligan.
When they returned, Merchant clarified that officers from around the city would be invited to apply. He added that they had specifically mentioned the First District because of its proximity to Navy Pier.
Meanwhile, Eva-Dina Delgado’s appointment to the Police Board went through mostly without a hitch, as Chairman Reboyras made a point to bar any discussion on specific police reforms or the mayor’s task force.
Although, Ald. Harry Osterman (48), more than once, urged Chairman Reboyras to make sure the ongoing discussions over police transparency remain open to the public and asked for him to hold another hearing similar to the one held last December in the wake of the Laquan McDonald video release.
Referencing a press conference Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, who is also the chair of the Mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force, held last week calling on the Emanuel Administration to do a better job of including the public in the ongoing debate over police reforms, Ald. Osterman asked that Reboyras invite members of the Task Force to the Council Chambers for a public hearing on their report.
“I strongly believe this committee needs to take a leadership role in these efforts in a very open and transparent way,” Osterman said. “Reforms that do not have a lot of transparency or conversation and back and forth with members of the bodies that have to vote on this, I think, will lead to bad public policy.”
And Delgado, a registered lobbyist for People’s Gas and a longtime Daley administration fixture, was still asked to weigh in on the ongoing debate over police reforms, as she’ll be sitting on a Board in charge of making recommendations of disciplinary action for officers found of misconduct.
“You’re right that we are at a critical juncture at the city where there are going to be lots of conversations about what police accountability should look like, and I think that’s a conversation that has to happen, of course, here in this chamber as part of your roles, obviously. And having some community input on that,” she said.
Both items are expected to be reported out at the June 22 monthly City Council meeting.