From police oversight to paid sick days, Progress Illinois rounds up highlights from Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting.
Aldermen agreed to give Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel the authority to bypass the Chicago Police Board and install interim police Supt. Eddie Johnson as the city’s permanent top cop.
By a 50-0 vote, the city council approved the appointment of Johnson to the full-time superintendent position.
“Well, we can strike the word interim,” Emanuel said to Johnson after the vote, telling him he has the command, character and capacity to lead the Chicago Police Department.
Last month, the Chicago Police Board recommended three finalists to replace former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who was fired in December amid the fallout over the Laquan McDonald case. But Emanuel rejected all three finalists and put forward CPD veteran Johnson as his pick to become interim superintendent.
On Wednesday, aldermen approved a rule change, allowing Johnson to become the permanent superintendent without having another search conducted by the police board.
Johnson delivered brief remarks after being confirmed.
“I promise the citizens of Chicago, the elected officials and the rank-and-file police officers: I will do my best, my absolute best, to regain the trust and to resolve some of this violence that we have out here,” Johnson said. “If I succeed, that means the CPD succeeds, and that means the city of Chicago succeeds. But it’s gonna take all of us, but I just want you all to know, I will give it 200 percent every single day. And my goal, my endgame, is to leave this city in much, much better shape that when I got here.”
Emanuel told Johnson he is “not in this fight alone” when “it comes to safety, when it comes to the reforms and changes that we will not back off from, because we have to make those changes to get us to a better place.”
Johnson, who is African American, has been a Chicago police officer since 1988.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) called Johnson a “no nonsense police officer” who has made “great strides” in making connections in the community.
“The city is clearly in need of healing, and I believe Superintendent Eddie Johnson is the person to do that,” added Ald. James Cappleman (46th).
Johnson’s confirmation came one day after details were released from what has been described as a “scathing” report by the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force, formed amid public outcry over the police shooting death of 17-year-old McDonald. The task force was charged with recommending police reforms.
In the draft report, the task force urges the police department to acknowledge its “history of racial disparity and discrimination,” and says the city’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) should be replaced with a “new and fully transparent and accountable Civilian Police Investigative Agency,” among other recommendations.
After the council meeting, reporters asked Emanuel about the task force’s draft report, including its call for replacing IPRA. The task force released its full report at 2 p.m. today, after the council meeting and Emanuel’s press conference.
“I haven’t seen the whole report, but my general attitude is going to be open to look at everything they say,” Emanuel told reporters during his media availability, adding that he wants the city council to “work on all the things that are necessary to make the changes, because people have to have confidence — whether it’s IPRA, or whatever — whatever the entity is, it has oversight as it relates to police disciplinary action … Whether it’s IPRA or not, the function needs to be there, and that’s what we’re gonna strive to have and get right in that effort.”
The mayor was also asked about the task force’s recommendation that the police superintendent acknowledge the department’s past racial discrimination.
“I don’t really think you need a task force to know that we have racism in America, we have racism in Illinois, or that there’s racism that exists in the city of Chicago and, obviously, can be in our departments,” Emanuel replied.
“The question isn’t, do we have racism? We do,” he said, adding that “the question is, what are you gonna do to confront it, make the changes, not only in personnel but in policies, to reflect, I think, the values that make up the diversity of our city.”
Council Approves Sophia King’s Aldermanic Appointment
Aldermen made a second unanimous confirmation Wednesday — that vote was to approve Sophia King as the new 4th Ward alderman.
King, appointed by Emanuel, is replacing former 4th Ward Ald. Will Burns, who stepped down earlier this year to work at the room letting website Airbnb.
“I am just ready and prepared to serve the 4th Ward, and I don’t have any misgivings about what my role is. I am a servant leader,” King said on the council floor after being sworn in as alderman. “I am first serving my constituents of the 4th Ward, and I’m honored to do that, and honored to sit amongst all of you.”
“You have shown me nothing but love. I know that it’s gonna go down from there,” King quipped, triggering laughter among aldermen. “But I appreciate the love, and I am just overwhelmed and humbled to be here.”
Two Police Settlements Approved
Policing issues took center stage at Wednesday’s council meeting.
Aldermen authorized two police misconduct settlements, including one involving the death of Philip Coleman. The council authorized a $4.95 million settlement for Coleman’s family.
Chicago police detained the 38-year-old in December 2012. Coleman was Tasered and dragged out of his holding cell by officers in a Far South Side detention facility. Surveillance footage of the incident was released in December 2015.
Coleman, who was detained by police for assaulting his mother during an apparent mental health crisis, was later brought to Roseland Community Hospital, where he died after having an adverse reaction to an antipsychotic drug. Coleman’s autopsy revealed he had bruises and other physical injuries.
Last December, a federal judge ruled that a Chicago police civilian detention aide, who dragged Coleman down a hallway while handcuffed after he was Tasered, used excessive force.
“It’s a tragic and sad case,” Finance Committee Chairman Ald. Ed Burke (14th) said on the council floor about Coleman’s death. “No amount of money can bring back this family’s loved one.”
“Hopefully there will be some changes,” Burke added, referring to the police handling of individuals with mental illness, saying there is “no doubt in my mind that the police bureaucracy failed the Coleman family, and now the taxpayers are paying for it.”
The council also approved a second, $1.5 million settlement for Justin Cook’s family. The 29-year-old died in police custody in 2014 after having a fatal asthma attack.
Police allegedly withheld Cooks’s inhaler from him. Two officers apprehended Cook after a foot chase, which ensued after police attempted to pull the man’s vehicle over due to a traffic violation. Police claim they gave Cook his inhaler. Witnesses have provided conflicting accounts of the incident.
Burke addressed the frequency with which the city authorizes police misconduct settlements.
“It just has happened too many times. We’ve authorized too many of these, but unfortunately here we are again. It’s almost like deja vu,” Burke said on the council floor.
Burke joined other aldermen Wednesday in introducing an ordinance related to deaths of suspects in CPD custody. The proposal would require that all such cases be referred to the Cook County State’s Attorney.
“The ordinance would codify into the municipal code language that requires the superintendent to notify the Cook County State’s Attorney Office of all officer-involved death incidents, including any death of a person that results from ‘an intentional omission’ or ‘unreasonable delay … or intentional failure to seek medical attention when the need for treatment is apparent,” reads a news release from Burke’s office about the proposal, also backed by Alds. Walter Burnett (27th), Carrie Austin (34th), and Ariel Reboyras (30th).
Police Oversight Overhaul?
Proposals to overhaul the city’s police oversight agency were introduced Wednesday.
One proposal came from Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who has proposed replacing IPRA with a new “independent citizen police monitor.” The monitor would be charged with investigating police shootings as well as excessive use of force and other misconduct allegations.
Under Hairston’s proposal, based in part on research from the University of Chicago Law School’s Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic, the new police oversight agency’s top official would be selected by an 11-person committee of community and government representatives.
Read more about the alderman’s proposal here.
Also on Wednesday, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) introduced the so-called “Fair Cops” ordinance, which would establish “a Deputy Inspector General of Police Oversight” within the city’s Inspector General’s Office to investigate claims of police brutality. The Police Oversight Deputy Inspector General would have the power to enforce policy recommendations and refer any officers for prosecution if the auditor believes illegal activity has occurred, according to a summary of the proposal.
At a press conference this morning with members of the Community Renewal Society, which has been pushing for the Fair Cops proposal for two years, Ervin said he had not yet spoken with the mayor’s office about the proposal.
“We will work with anyone that’s interested in moving this goal forward, including the task force, the aldermanic staff and the mayor,” Ervin said.
With there now being at least two proposals pending in the city council about police oversight reform, Ervin urged the council to take action on the issue.
“This is a crucial time in the city of Chicago right now, and I believe that if we do not move forward on these ordinances to make the necessary reforms that are needed, we will lose total faith in our system of government,” Ervin said. “And that is not something that I think that you or I would want to see, people losing faith, complete loss of faith in the police department or in their government.”
Paid Sick Days Ordinance Introduced
Another ordinance introduced Wednesday would make paid sick leave a reality for all workers in the city. The measure would affect some 460,000 private-sector workers in the city currently without paid sick days.
Under the proposal, which piggybacks off recommendations made by Emanuel’s Working Families Task Force, employers would have to provide their workers with one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked.
Workers could earn up to five paid sick days each year, and carry over 2.5 unused sick days into the next year.
“People deserve to be at home when they are sick,” said Ald. Toni Foulkes (16th), the ordinance’s chief sponsor. “And they deserve to be paid when they are at home.”
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) co-chaired the Working Families Task Force.
“It’s just a baseline of decency,” Pawar said of the paid sick days proposal. “And I understand that we have other groups on the task force that came out against the task force recommendations.”
Business groups such as the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce are among the opponents of the task force’s paid sick leave recommendations.
Pawar pointed to the findings of a leaked internal poll from the Council of State Chambers, showing that most U.S. business executives support policies to boost the minimum wage and provide workers with paid sick time, predictive scheduling and increased maternity and paternity leave.
“This is indicative of the fact that, I believe, that for some of the business groups, they are out of step with their membership, and they’re starting to, hopefully, realize that even their members believe that we should have some baseline of decency when we talk about workers,” Pawar said of the internal poll.
Asked about the paid sick leave proposal, the mayor said he supports “the general notion of supporting people being both good workers and good family members or parents.” He said he thinks employees need “that help so they’re not put in this false choice between being either a worker or a parent.”
“The policy of having paid sick days, finally, as a general rule I support,” Emanuel added.
Progressive Caucus Introduces Financial Oversight Measure
The Chicago City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus introduced an ordinance aimed at creating “oversight and transparency for debt transactions and untested financial arrangements,” like the controversial interest rate swap agreements the city has with banks.
Alds. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and John Arena (45th) are the lead sponsors of the ordinance, which was developed with the Emanuel administration.
The ordinance seeks to address the following points, as provided by the Progressive Caucus.
Ensure that the taxpayers of Chicago receive greater information and access to the financial decisions of the City of Chicago through increased scrutiny of financial transactions by the City Council and through public hearings.
Provide a mechanism for heightened scrutiny of all unconventional debt transactions before passage by City Council.
Ensure that the City of Chicago executes financial decisions in a manner that is transparent and in the best interests of the taxpayers of Chicago.
Hold all parties to the financial transactions of the City of Chicago accountable for the fiscal decisions made on behalf of the taxpayers of Chicago.
“Complex, bad deals with the big banks have sucked hundreds of millions of tax dollars away from our schools and communities,” Waguespack said in a statement. “This will allow us to thoroughly examine any future debt deals like these, and make sure we stop future bad deals for taxpayers.”
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) has proposed a seven-cent hike in the city’s gas tax to pay for infrastructure needs.
Revenue from raising the gas tax from five cents to 12 cents a gallon would be put toward “construction repair and upkeep and maintenance of roads, highways, bridges, alleys, crossings, tracks and other public ways associated with transportation infrastructure.”
Alds. Burke and Raymond Lopez (15th) want to give animal owners an incentive to get their pets licensed and microchipped.
Under a proposal introduced Wednesday, Chicago animal control workers would have to check stray animals for microchipping and licensing information. Animals with such information would be returned to their owners “immediately” and free of charge, if the “owners reside within three miles of the site of impoundment.”
This measure would help avoid sending numerous pets to the city’s animal pound, which is not a “no-kill” shelter.
“This measure aims to save the lives of many pets, lessen overcrowding and put in place a more compassionate policy that would benefit pets and their owners across the city of Chicago,” Burke said in a statement.
Lopez added: “This is in keeping with our mission to make Chicago a no-kill city. The best way to keep pets from being euthanized is to keep them out of the animal control system. It also incentivizes the purchase of licenses. This would be a free benefit if you have a valid pet license.”
Crossing Guards Speak Out
Crossing guards came out in force to Wednesday’s council meeting. They were there to raise concerns about 898 crossing guard positions being transferred from the CPD’s supervision to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications as part of the fiscal year 2016 budget process.
Crossing guards rallied support for a resolution on the issue. The resolution, sponsored by Ald. Waguespack, states that the transfer of crossing guard positions came with “no cost savings.” It urges Emanuel, in part, to “maintain the current practice of the Chicago Police Department supervising crossing guards.”
The resolution adds: “Crossing guards, and the parents whose children they protect, are concerned that crossing guards’ transfer to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications from the Chicago Police Department will result in changes to their job duties, classification and uniforms that will degrade their ability and authority to protect children and pedestrians throughout the city of Chicago.”