Several progressive aldermen and activists have joined a growing list of critics calling for the Chicago City Council to reject an arbitrator’s ruling that would allow Chicago police officers accused of serious misconduct to have their disciplinary cases decided behind closed doors.
“Let’s not take steps back, but let’s keep working together to make sure that cops are held accountable,” Ald. Julia Ramirez, 12th, said during a news conference Thursday at City Hall.
“I’ve seen the ways that cops have pulled over young people, have pulled up on basketball courts and asked people to fall down to the floor for no case, but based on their race, based on their age or based off of the neighborhood they grew up in,” Ramirez added. “We deserve better. Our youth deserve better and let’s make sure that we hold police accountable.”
Earlier this year, as part of the ongoing contract negotiations between the Fraternal Order of Police and the city, an arbitrator ruled that CPD officers accused of the most serious misconduct should have the option to have their cases decided by the Chicago Police Board or an independent third party. If an officer chose the latter, the hearings would be conducted behind closed doors and not open to the public.
That option, however, is not binding until the City Council approves and ratifies the FOP’s next contract. If the City Council were to vote down the contract, negotiations would resume once again under the supervision of Edwin Benn, the arbitrator who issued the award to the union earlier this year. Any long-term impasse in negotiations likely would require arguments in Cook County Circuit Court.
Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, said he will be looking closely at the proposed contract for other accountability mechanisms.
“In effect, an FOP contract is arbitration, so we have to look to see which action (is in) that contract to make sure there’s accountability in place,” Vasquez said Thursday. “I voted against it last time because there wasn’t (any), we’ll be looking to see what’s in it now.”
Frank Chapman, executive director of the Civilian Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and a longtime police accountability activist, called for the City Council to reject the arbitrator’s award.
“We’re asking the City Council to vote down the arbitration decision, the decision to take this out of the public eye and take it behind closed doors where arbitration takes place, because this denies us the democratic process that we fought so hard to get,” Chapman said. “We want to hold police accountable in the open.”
After the arbitrator’s award was made public over the summer, an attorney for the FOP tried unsuccessfully to remove more than 20 pending disciplinary cases from the Police Board’s docket and have them decided instead by a third-party.
That attorney, Tim Grace, said that even with the option to go to a third party, some CPD officers accused of serious misconduct would still opt to have their cases decided by the police board.
“I think we’ll be trying a lot of cases at the Police Board, still, in the future, but I think that there are going to be some officers that want arbitration,” Grace said last month.
Chicago Tribune editors’ top story picks, delivered to your inbox each afternoon.
Sharon Fairley, a professor from practice at the University of Chicago and the former chief administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority and Civilian Office of Police Accountability, said the union’s efforts are in line with recent national trends.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Fairley said. “We see unions taking action across a number of fronts seeking to constrain the impact of civilian oversight as it has really been burgeoning across the country over the past few years.”
“Since the killing of George Floyd (in 2020), many communities are increasingly turning to civilian oversight as one of many police reform strategies that they think are important,” Fairley added. “And as we see more and more cities adopting civilian oversight, we see more and more unions pushing back against the creation of oversight and also seeking to reduce the powers of oversight where it exists.”
Historically, members of the nine-person board were appointed by the mayor.
But that changed via city ordinance in 2021. Now, when there is a board seat vacant, the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability will nominate three candidates to the mayor, who will choose someone to fill the seat. The same ordinance also created three district councilor positions for each of the CPD’s 22 patrol districts. Those district councilors will now be liaisons between officers in the district and the residents who live there.
Addressing the arbitration award during a Police Board meeting earlier this summer, Ghian Foreman, the board’s president, said: “Police accountability and, ultimately, the people of Chicago will suffer if the most serious police disciplinary cases are removed from the police board’s jurisdiction, which is what will happen if this decision is allowed to stand.”