Protesters marched in the Loop against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd on May 31, 2020. Credit: Brooke Hummer

There are more than 100 candidates vying for seats on Chicago’s police district councils in the February 28 election. These councils, like the citywide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA), were created by the 2021 Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance, which the City Council passed in 2021 after years of community organizing.

Read our voter guide to police district council candidates

There are 66 council seats; three in each of Chicago’s 22 police districts. Each council is made up of a chairperson, a community engagement coordinator, and a member of the citywide committee that nominates CCPSA members. Council members are elected to four-year terms beginning in 2023. They must live in the district and cannot have been a member of the Chicago Police Department, Independent Police Review Authority, Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), or the Police Board for at least three years before they assume office. If there is a vacancy on one of the councils, its members will submit three names to the CCPSA, which recommends one to the mayor for an appointment.

Police district council responsibilities

Community interaction and support

The police district councils are required to hold monthly meetings to discuss policing issues. They inform the community about the work the district councils and the Commission are doing, and gather input from the public about public safety and policing in their communities. They’re required to assist the public with such issues and help community members request information about investigations from the police department and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA).

Police interaction and oversight

Police district councils work with district commanders and community members to develop and implement community policing initiatives, and the councils are specifically tasked with developing and expanding restorative justice and similar programs. They’re required to encourage police officers to help the community access resources, and they provide information to police about their work and the Commission’s work.

CCPSA input

Beginning in 2023, district councils will be able to nominate 14 candidates to the CCPSA, and the mayor will be required to select seven from that list (the City Council nominated 14 candidates to the current interim Commission in 2022).

The police district councils will send one member to quarterly and annual meetings with delegates from all 66 councils. Councils may report their findings and make policy recommendations to the CCPSA.

CCPSA responsibilities

Hiring and firing public safety administrators

When there is a vacancy of the police superintendent, Police Board members, or the COPA chief administrator, the CCPSA sends a list of candidates to the mayor, who selects one whom the City Council confirms.

The Commission is responsible for hiring COPA’s chief administrator (whom the City Council confirms) and can fire them for cause.

At the beginning of the year, the Commission sets goals for the police superintendent and the department, COPA’s chief administrator, the Police Board and its president. At the end of the year, the Commission will evaluate their performance.

The Commission can hold hearings about the police superintendent and members of the Police Board, and take a vote of no confidence in them, which would require the City Council to hold hearings and a vote, as well as a public response from the mayor.

Police department policy oversight

General orders for CPD can be drafted by the department or the Commission, but they require a majority vote by the Commission to become policy. The Commission will post draft policies on its website and invite public comment. The police department is still under a federal consent decree, and policies that are covered by it can’t be set by the Commission. The mayor can veto policies enacted by the Commission, and the City Council can override the veto by a two-thirds majority vote.

The Commission works with the police department on community policing programs and recommends solutions to violence that are preventative, community-based, and include non-policing alternatives.

The Commission can make recommendations about what the Public Safety Inspector General should audit. It also reviews the police department budget and can recommend changes to it before the City Council votes on it.

If the police department and Commission disagree on a policy, there is a process to resolve differences and build consensus between them.

Community engagement and transparency

The CCPSA must hold monthly meetings. It conducts outreach on relations between community and police; department policies and practices; and the department’s accountability system. The Commission can publish reports on matters of community concern, and it can require the police superintendent to answer questions in public and provide reports to the Commission.

The Commission will appoint an advisory council made up of Chicago residents who do not have citizenship.

Fifty years of struggle

Frank Chapman discusses the history of the movement for community control of the Chicago police.