Just the thing for helping Chicago with its murder rate and violent crime: a new police civilian oversight commission

A group calling itself the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) is pushing hard for a civilian oversight commission – with the power to fire police, up to an including the superintendent – and has a lot of support in that one-party deep blue city. Chicago already has the Chicago Police Board, “an independent civilian body that oversees certain activities of the Chicago Police Department. The Board's powers and responsibilities include deciding disciplinary matters involving police officers and nominating candidates for Superintendent of Police to the Mayor,” but that is not enugh power for the “grass roots activists.”

Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times reports on the pressures for and against the proposed new entity:

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot has warned that Mayor Rahm Emanuel will face a furious political backlash if he refuses to endorse a civilian oversight proposal initiated by the Task Force on Police Accountability she co-chaired or attempts to stall a City Council vote on the proposal until after the 2019 mayoral election.

Emanuel has already signaled a go-slow approach by arguing that the civilian oversight he promised two years ago, but failed to deliver must be “complementary — not contradictory” to the city’s “public safety goals.”

Emanuel, a realist, must understand that Chicago’s out of control crime problem could only escalate. He has a lot of people telling him so:

 Crime will spike and police morale will plummet—to the point where veteran officers will lay back and “nobody will want to take this job”—if a civilian oversight board is empowered to fire the police superintendent and establish police policy, a former cop-turned alderman is warning.

Northwest Side Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), the City Council’s champion for Chicago Police officers, condemned the fundamental change in police oversight proposed by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) after 18 months of public hearings. (snip)

“We’ve already created a department of reactive police officers [who] don’t want to do anything right now. Now, you’re gonna put civilians on a board who most likely don’t like the police and are gonna look for everything they’re doing wrong as well as have the opportunity to fire our superintendent? This is probably one of the worst decisions we could be making,” Napolitano told the Chicago Sun-Times.”

Others agree with Napolitano:

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham has argued that “policing is becoming almost impossible in Chicago” because of redundant layers of oversight by the FBI, the Illinois State Police, the state’s attorney’s office, a Civilian Office of Police Accountability that has officers “under virtual siege” and an “exceedingly biased media.”

Even more oversight would bring about “chaos mislabeled as reform,” Graham has said. (snip)

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson was even more outspoken. Johnson said civilians “don’t have the professional acumen to develop police and strategy” for the Chicago Police Department and allowing them to do so and empowering them to fire the superintendent is “just crazy to me” and “like telling a surgeon how to do his business.”

The proposed commission would feature elected representatives from each of Chicago’s 22 police districts, and would have sweeping powers to fire, even top management. It would require a 2/3 vote of the Chicago Board of Alderman to reverse a firing.

I am not opposed to civilian review of cops. Any large group of humans will have some miscreants among its membership. And cops have awesome powers that need to be checked when misused. But Chicago already has civilian review, and its police are understandably feeling so beleaguered by the many layers of oversight and second guessing that the city suffers from a lack of proactive policing. This proposed board would make matters worse with its powers that would be difficult-to-impossible to correct when wrong. 

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