Jul 21, 2021 - Politics & Policy

New civilian commission will oversee Chicago police after push for reform

Photo of a Chicago police car parked next to a crime scene that's taped off and has multiple officers standing around

Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski via Getty Images

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday voted to establish a new civilian commission composed of publicly elected community members who will oversee the Chicago Police Department.

Why it matters: Chicago police have been the center of controversy for decades. In recent years, pressure for reform has increased when it was revealed that officers had tortured and coerced over 100 people into false confessions, and after police shot and killed Laquan McDonald, a Black teen, in 2014.

  • Though the department is under a court-mandated federal consent decree to overhaul use-of-force and accountability mechanisms, advocates say the new Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability is a faster and more direct way to regain public trust.

How it'll work: Seven community members will be elected to four-year terms on the commission starting in 2023, according to the Washington Post.

  • Two must be practicing lawyers, and others should have experience in areas like civil rights and mental health. Each commissioner will receive a $12,000 stipend.
  • They will have a say in decisions to hire or fire the police superintendent, police board members, and the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
  • The group is also tasked with developing restorative justice programs.
  • The commission's $3.5 million annual cost will come out of the police department's budget.

What they're saying: "It took two years longer than I expected, but today the Chicago City Council passed the strongest civilian oversight law in the country," City Council member Matt Martin tweeted after the vote.

  • Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who backed the ordinance but has faced criticism for waffling on police reform, called the debate "one for the ages," the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
  • "[L]egitimacy is key to the work that our police do," she said, per the Sun-Times. "If the communities do not trust them because they’re not legitimate to them, they will not be effective in their most core mission, which is serving and protecting every single resident of this city."

Worth noting: Illinois recently banned police from lying to minors during interrogations.

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