The 2020 uprising, sparked after the murder of George Floyd, was one of the largest in US history, and the words that echoed across Chicago and the rest of the country were “No Justice, No Peace! Abolish the Police!”—or, as some would say, defund the police in such a way that it results in their eventual abolition.
The Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance does not represent those words. Instead it represents a major setback for both the ongoing uprising and the abolitionist movement as a whole.
To quote the ordinance: “People who trust the police department are more likely to cooperate with the police department, and public cooperation with the police department helps to reduce and solve crime.” Those words sound nothing like the chants that drove millions of us to the streets to fight for change and for an end to the racist and violent system of policing in the United States.
How ECPS Came to Be
Before delving into the specifics of the language of the ordinance and what it represents, it is first necessary to provide context as to how it came about. ECPS came about as the result of negotiations that started earlier this year between members of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization representing the longstanding demand for a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), members of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) coalition, and members of Chicago City Council.
The initial result of those negotiations, with no input from or explanation to the majority of the members of the CAARPR, was more or less the reformist GAPA ordinance in its original form with an empty promise of a referendum. The referendum portion was originally in place to introduce the requirement for a binding referendum on the 2022 ballot, which would allow voters to choose whether or not directly elected individuals would have any real power over the Chicago Police Department.
Since then, predictably, the referendum portion has been removed, and after a second round of negotiations with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the ordinance has been watered down so much that it is unlikely to ever be able to lead to the implementation of abolitionist policies or any real community control of the police.
What ECPS Does
The ordinance claims that the Police Accountability Task Force formed after the murder of Laquan McDonald and headed by Lori Lightfoot actually saw the importance of real community oversight of the police:
WHEREAS, The Police Accountability Task Force called for creation of a “Community Safety Oversight Board,” “comprised entirely of community residents,” with “power to oversee CPD, the new CPIA [now the Civilian Office of Police Accountability] and all police oversight mechanisms,” and specified that “The Community Board would ensure that … all components of the police oversight system are held fully accountable, operate with maximum transparency and perform their roles in a manner that is informed by community needs”
What ECPS actually does is clearly spelled out in its other opening statements of purpose:
WHEREAS, The United States Department of Justice concluded that “[i]t has never been more important to rebuild trust for the police within Chicago’s neighborhoods most challenged by violence, poverty, and unemployment,” and that “Chicago must undergo broad, fundamental reform to restore this trust,” which “will benefit both the public and CPD’s own officers,” and “is necessary to solve and prevent violent crime”; and
WHEREAS, Research indicates that public participation in the determination of police department policy helps to build trust in the police department; and . . .
WHEREAS, People who trust the police department are more likely to cooperate with the police department, and public cooperation with the police department helps to reduce and solve crime; and . . .
WHEREAS, This ordinance also establishes District Councils for the purposes of building connections between CPD and the community; … and ensuring the independence and increasing the legitimacy of the Commission by participating in the selection of its members [emphasis added]
In other words, rather than actually implementing real community control over the police, the goal of the ECPS ordinance is to gaslight people into snitching on each other, believing that they have some say in how the police operate and that police have their best interests in mind.
In order to implement this goal, the ECPS ordinance establishes that three people in each of the twenty-two police districts of Chicago shall be elected by voters to:
(1) build connections between the police and the community; (2) collaborate in the development and implementation of community policing initiatives; (3) ensure regular community input for Commission efforts; (4) ensure that within each District there is a forum where District residents can raise and work to address any concerns about policing in the District, including but not limited to police interactions with youth and people of all immigration statuses; (5) ensure the independence and increase the legitimacy of the Commission by participating in the selection of its members; (6) participate in the selection of Commissioners who will fulfill the purposes listed in Section 2-80-030 of this Chapter; and (7) assist the Commission in fulfilling the purposes listed in Section 2-80-030. [emphasis added]
One of the three elected individuals in each police district will be part of a nominating committee of twenty-two people that will submit names of individuals to the mayor of Chicago. She can choose among these nominees to appoint a commission of seven individuals who have the power to review, report on, and make recommendations to the Chicago Police Department. Additionally, the seven appointed commission members will have the power to oversee the district councils and delegate responsibilities to them.
In other words, after over a year of historic struggle, the people of Chicago are granted the right to elect the people who select the people who may or may not be appointed by the mayor to give the illusion of having a say in how the Chicago Police Department operates.
What ECPS Doesn’t Do
There is no function of the district councils or the mayor-appointed commission that does not require the approval of the mayor or City Council before going into effect. Specifically, to summarize the provisions:
- Anyone recommended by the commission or district councils—the police superintendent, Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) administrator, members of the commission, and members of the police board—cannot be appointed without approval of City Council and without the opportunity given to the mayor to have an unlimited number of rejections.
- The police superintendent, COPA administrator, and members of the police board cannot be removed from office without at least approval of City Council.
- Only the mayor can truly remove the police superintendent or members of the police board from office.
- Any police policy created or approved by the commision can be vetoed by the mayor. Such a veto can only be overturned by a two-thirds vote in City Council.
Under the ECPS ordinance, even if the sixty-six people elected to district councils and the seven commissioners appointed by the mayor could implement real policy changes, it is very unlikely that they would have the time or capacity to do so. This is due to both the large number of people involved and also by a severe lack in pay. The seven commissioners who will be tasked with holding one of the largest police departments in the world (with a budget of over $1.8 billion) accountable will only be given a stipend of $12,000 a year. The district council members will receive stipends of $500 a month.
Holding the police accountable would undoubtedly be a full time job. If the goal of this ordinance was to actually hold the police accountable, then they would have given commissioners and council members full-time salaries.
Better Than Nothing—Or Worse?
The ECPS ordinance, unlike CPAC, is clearly a step in the wrong direction. It further complicates the already complicated bureaucracy around police policy and budget while doing nothing to shift power away from City Council and the mayor.
Furthermore, and this is perhaps a larger obstacle to the movement, it establishes a council operating in every neighborhood in Chicago with the stated purpose of convincing people that they have a say in police policy so that they are more likely to trust the police. The councils will have a total budget of no less than $3.8 million dollars to preach and deceive the public into anti-abolitionist policies and practices. The number of people who organizers and activists have to interact with in order to get police policies changed has grown to 124 people: 66 district council members, 7 mayor-appointed commissioners, 50 aldermen, and the mayor. This number doesn’t even factor in the members of COPA, the police board, the police superintendent, or the Fraternal Order of Police.
The worst part about the ECPS ordinance isn’t in the document itself. ECPS has been heralded as a major victory by the executive committee of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Doing so helps set the stage for Lori Lightfoot’s reelection in 2023 by allowing her to claim that she stands for police accountability, which was one of her key campaign promises. Uncritically claiming the ordinance as a victory legitimizes her, even though she presided over the cover up of the Anjanette Young incident and the murder of Adam Toledo. In return we get a bureaucratic mess and the false pretense of democracy.
For those of us who experienced the brutality of the Chicago Police Department, under the direction of Lori Lightfoot, during the 2020 uprising we must acknowledge the truth. ECPS is a setback and not a victory.