Protesters march in the Loop against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd on May 30, 2020. Credit: Brooke Hummer

On Monday, the City Council’s rules committee opened applications for the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, more than a month after the December 1 deadline to do so. 

The commission was established by the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance in July 2021. As The Daily Line previously reported, the City Council missed the December 1 deadline for accepting applications mandated by the ECPS ordinance. Without any applicants, the Council was unable to recommend 14 nominees to the mayor by the ordinance’s January 1, 2022 deadline. 

Alderpersons Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) and Daniel La Spata (First Ward) both attributed the delay to Eighth Ward Alderperson Michelle Harris, who as chair of the rules committee was responsible for posting both the application and information about the application process. 

Contentious negotiations around ward redistricting and this year’s budget last fall may have distracted the rules committee from moving ahead on the Community Commission. 

But La Spata said Harris understood her responsibility in posting the application. “We are capable of doing two things at once and we are absolutely capable of doing this,” he added.

Harris did not respond to the Reader’s request for comment by press time.

Before the holidays, Ramirez-Rosa and La Spata met with Harris to discuss what the interim commissioner application would look like, with the goal of publishing the application as early as possible. Rosa said he and La Spata left the meeting feeling that they had a clear timeline and sense of what an application would look like. But on January 7, Rosa said that he had not heard from Harris after reaching out numerous times.

The ECPS ordinance was a compromise between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and supporters of two activist organizations, the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) and the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). 

During her 2019 mayoral campaign, Lightfoot vowed to enact a GAPA ordinance within her first 100 days in office, but she balked at giving up control of the police and dropped her support for GAPA in 2020. Lightfoot introduced a proposal in 2021 that failed to garner support in the council. ECPS ultimately passed with the support of 36 alderpersons.  

Under the new ordinance, the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability will have legal powers previously only held by CPD, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), and the mayor’s office, such as the ability to set in motion the firing of the CPD superintendent and the hiring of COPA’s chief administrator. The powers given to the new commission, while practically seen nowhere else in the country, are hobbled by the law’s requirement for a City Council majority vote, and the commission’s policies can be vetoed by the mayor unless a two-thirds majority vote overrides it.

According to La Spata and Rosa, the process to come up with a majority vote is unclear and does not specify whether such a vote is needed for the full list of nominees, or whether a majority vote is needed for each and every nominee. Until the rules committee clarifies the nominee majority-vote process, it will remain difficult to say how long it will take City Council to finalize its votes.

The application window for the interim commission closes on February 4, 2022. Once it closes, the City Council will still need to have a majority vote on its list of 14 nominees before they can send a list to the mayor for her to appoint seven commissioners. 

Frank Chapman has been a key organizer in the efforts to establish civilian control of the police for decades. He said activists are continuing to work with alderpersons to get the commission in place.   

“We want justice, and this is a step in the right direction,” Chapman said. “We’re not going to let the media forget nor the politicians forget. While we understand the delay, we don’t understand forgetting.” 

While the delay may have fueled fears that the City Council had forgotten ECPS, La Spata said that wasn’t the case. “Far from it,” he said. “We are committed to seeing the interim commission and the full commission come forward.”

Chapman said he remains hopeful about City Council’s ability to get the commission up and running, though he stresses that the Chicago public and its police accountability coalitions are willing to escalate.

“Right now, we’re working with the alderpeople and the mayor’s office to get this done,” he said. “We’re not taking an antagonistic approach right now but we’re willing to take action if necessary. But we want to work with them to get done what we all agreed should be done. We shouldn’t be swimming against a tide. 

“All we’re asking for in Chicago is what we’ve always needed; for the [police] to be held accountable for this misconduct that they engage in,” Chapman added. “And we’re not going to back down on that.”