By Jim Daley and Sky Patterson
This guide was co-published with South Side Weekly.
After decades of struggle by thousands of people who organized, marched, petitioned, prayed, and collectively clamored for the right to have a say in how their communities are policed, on February 28 voters will elect 66 people to serve on police district councils across the city.
The battle for community control of the police has been waged for more than a half-century. Deputy chairman Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party sparked the first push in the late 1960s (see Fifty years of struggle). In the decades since, organizers have won incremental concessions. The Office of Professional Standards was created within the police department in 1974. It was replaced by the Independent Police Review Authority in 2007, which was in turn replaced by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability a decade later. Each agency was created thanks to the tireless efforts of ordinary Chicagoans. None of the people serving on them were democratically elected.
The police district councils will be elected. Three councilors will serve in each of the city’s 22 police districts for four-year terms. They’ll be tasked with building connections between police and communities, developing community policing initiatives, getting community input on CPD policies, and ensuring the citywide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) hears the community’s concerns.
The Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance that created the councils and the CCPSA is the result of a decade of organizing spurred by the 2012 killing of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd by Dante Servin, an off-duty police detective, in Douglass Park. Servin, found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter because the judge determined he’d shot Boyd intentionally, resigned from the department with a pension. In response to that killing, organizers began the push for community control of police anew.
In the ensuing years, as high-profile killings by police across the country mounted, they catalyzed the Black Lives Matter movement, a nationwide effort to get government officials to do something—anything—to stem the epidemic of violence wrought upon Black and Brown communities by the very officers tasked with keeping them safe. In Chicago and elsewhere, the police kept killing people. The victims were often unarmed, and they were almost always Black.
In 2014, then-officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him. When video footage of the shooting was released, thousands of Chicagoans protested downtown, shutting down the Magnificent Mile during Black Friday and staging a sit-in at the office of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who activists said had mishandled the prosecutions of both Van Dyke and Servin. In the wake of the protests, Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder, and the U.S. Department of Justice placed the CPD under a federal consent decree.
Everything changed in 2020, as protests of the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin swept the nation. In Chicago and elsewhere, the rebellions (and the police response to them) turned into a long, hot summer. In its midst, the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression formed a coalition, Empowering Communities for Public Safety. With thousands of ordinary people at its back and in the streets, the coalition negotiated the language of the ECPS ordinance with the mayor. It passed in 2021.
Chicagoans have been promised police reform before, and the department’s entrenched attitude against change could make some wonder how effective the district councils will be. One clue to the power they may wield lies in who’s on the ballot. In addition to ordinary residents and dedicated activists, several candidates with law enforcement ties are running. And the Fraternal Order of Police’s election attorney filed challenges to several progressive candidates’ ballot petitions, is listed as the contact person for six more on Chicago Board of Election Commissioners (CBEC) filings, and is himself running.
We sent questionnaires to district council candidates, interviewed as many as we could reach, and researched their backgrounds using sources ranging from social media to biographies compiled by the ECPS coalition. We’ve compiled the responses below. Early voting begins on January 26 at the CBEC supersite, and on February 13 in all 50 wards. —Jim Daley
Detailed maps of each district are available on the Office of Public Safety website.
2023 Police District Council Candidates
For quick reference, we assigned icons to denote key details about certain candidates: a bullhorn for activists and organizers, a badge for those with ties to the police and FOP, a suit to denote those who have garnered political endorsements, and a dove for candidates who support greater accountability for police.
Frank Chapman discusses the history of the movement for community control of the Chicago police.
Immigrants seeking a U visa are being blocked by two sergeants who were previously involved in controversial shootings and on the verge of being fired, raising questions about CPD’s commitment to the U visa program.
Officer Nicholas Jovanovich knocked out the activist’s tooth and seized her cell phone.