This week the City Council’s Public Safety Committee advanced Mayor Lightfoot’s nominations for three open seats on the Chicago Police Board. The mandate to fill vacancies on the city’s most powerful police accountability panel presented the mayor with a prime opportunity to consummate one of her core campaign promises to communities long besieged by abusive law enforcement practices. As a candidate, Lightfoot vowed to dismantle Chicago’s pernicious system of racialized police brutality, which had been faithfully preserved under the administrations of former mayors Rahm Emanuel and Richard M. Daley.
So it came as a stunning disappointment to local reform advocates when the mayor failed to endorse a single candidate who would offer a measure of independence or community perspective to the Chicago Police Board. Lightfoot opted instead for the retention of two of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s police board nominees, and the appointment of a high ranking operative in the Richard M. Daley administration.
The Chicago Police Board wields tremendous influence over city law enforcement, vested with the authority to nominate the police superintendent, establish department rules and oversee disciplinary action in cases of officer misconduct. However, in its capacity as appointed body, the panel has historically lacked the independence and grassroots representation required to eradicate corruption, violence and impunity within the Chicago Police Department.
Through the nomination process, the mayor and City Council implicitly bestow their staunch political loyalty to city law enforcement upon board members. As a result, the oversight commission has served as an obstruction rather than an instrument of progressive reform.
The board consistently abstains from exercising its authority to issue policy recommendations to the police department, and in reviewing incidents of officer wrongdoing, seldom pursues justice. Even in the rare cases where the police superintendent calls for disciplinary removal, the committee overwhelmingly rules in favor of the officer. In 2018, the Chicago Police Board upheld the superintendent's recommendation for termination in only 38% of the cases it considered.
Lightfoot's insider nominations stand as an endorsement of the police board status quo, and confirm a long held assertion among local reform activists: In order to advance safety, equity and justice for all Chicago neighborhoods, residents must assert direct community control over the police.
To this end, the Workers Center for Racial Justice and the Center for Racial and Gender Equity are mobilizing voters to place a binding referendum on the 2020 ballot that would make the Chicago Police Board a directly elected representative body.
In order to achieve this, WCRJ and CRGE call upon our allies to help circulate petitions, check signatures, volunteer as a notary, and get the word out to friends and neighbors.