By Esther Bowen
JCUA has reached an important milestone in its work on police accountability. We have decided to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability (CPCA) to become an official member organizing for specific reforms to the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union contracts with the city.
I got involved as a JCUA member with police accountability last year, and have had the opportunity to work on this campaign since spring. I believe that it will significantly advance JCUA’s ability to make a difference on this issue. By signing the MOU, we join other community-based, policy, and civil rights groups in CPCA calling on the city to renegotiate the police contracts in accord with the coalition’s 14 recommendations for reform. Although we are new to the coalition, JCUA has long-standing relationships with many of the organizations and leaders in CPCA that are built on mutual respect and trust.
Most of JCUA’s work on this issue to date has been in coordination with the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), another coalition focused on the creation of a community oversight board to improve police accountability. Adding a focus for JCUA on FOP contracts, however, enhances the work we’ve already been involved in; reforming the FOP contracts is critical for both facilitating real police accountability in Chicago and enabling true community oversight of police.
This is because CPCA’s 14 recommendations for reform – if adopted – would make it easier to report, identify, and investigate misconduct, and make it harder to lie about or destroy evidence of misconduct. For example, I was surprised to learn that the contracts require the name of anyone who brings a complaint to be disclosed, which could be a huge disincentive for people in reporting incidents of misconduct. I also didn’t know that officers can delay giving statements about an incident, nor do they have to be separated in the day after, which could make it easier for officers to lie and coordinate their statements. Contract provisions like these are problematic because they hinder efforts to hold officers accountable and should be renegotiated.
To demand that the city adopt these recommendations, JCUA joined CPCA for their Day of Action in late June. As part of the day of action, I participated in a press conference at Chicago City Hall, with speakers and attendees from groups across CPCA. I was one of 15 JCUA members who came out in addition to JCUA staff. Speakers articulated the ways in which the current contracts make communities less safe and called on the city to end these provisions. After the press conference ended, we delivered 30,000 signatures collected in an online petition to the Mayor’s office pressuring aldermen to back common sense reforms to the FOP contracts.
It was my first time participating in a press conference, and I felt proud and inspired standing as a JCUA member with other CPCA coalition members publicly in support of FOP contract changes. It was the urgency and resolve of the gathered crowd chanting “no justice, no peace!” at the end that remained with me. As an expectant mother, I’ve come to feel a more acute sense of urgency myself on this issue. Knowing my daughter was there with me that day made me think about the example that I’ll be for her in the future, and sharpens my own sense of moral integrity; not taking action on this issue right now feels simply impossible.
The FOP contract with the city expired on June 30. Chicago is now negotiating with the FOP to produce a new contract, but there is no set timeline for negotiations. Ultimately, signing the MOU at this critical juncture allows JCUA to organize more effectively around police accountability moving forward: it reflects the momentum and power we’re building as an organization on this issue; it brings us closer into this work with key partners; and it enables us to organize around the FOP contracts, which are an essential piece of the police accountability puzzle.