GOTV – What Are the New District Councils?

In July 2021, the Chicago City Council passed the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance, which created a new model for police oversight, accountability, and public safety. The ECPS ordinance created District Councils to be comprised of several dozen members elected by Chicagoans to help increase accountability by law enforcement to citizens. The District Councils will be a body separate from other law enforcement bodies in Chicago. The establishment of the District Councils was a long overdue and necessary response to increasing police brutality in Chicago and across the country. In this year’s city elections, we will be electing members to these District Councils, so it is important to be informed about what the Councils do and who is running.

Why Do We Need District Councils?

Police brutality is a public health crisis in the United States, and it is also a health equity issue. Many of the issues of modern policing can be traced back to racial segregation and the marginalization of minority populations, including Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ communities. Research shows that marginalized groups are disproportionately impacted by police violence and murder. For example, LGBTQ+ individuals experience many negative interactions with law enforcement. A 2014 national survey by Lambda Legal showed that 21% of LGBTQ+ respondents reported encountering hostile attitudes from officers, 14% reported verbal assault by the police, 3% reported sexual harassment, and 2% reported physical assault at the hands of law enforcement officers. Black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police over the life course compared to White men. The number of Latinx individuals killed by police increased about 24% between 2014 and 2021.

Chicago, like many other cities, has a historically tumultuous relationship between law enforcement and citizens, especially citizens of color. Once such incident of police violence is the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in Chicago. McDonald was shot 16 times by a police officer on the southside of Chicago and a subsequent campaign to cover up the video footage of McDonald’s murder lead to a multitude of  calls for increased civilian oversight. This led to the City Council’s creation of the District Councils. This comes after many years of community organizing and several proposed plans on how this council would be structured. This upcoming Chicago election will be the first-time citizens will have direct interaction with this new plan of accountability.

Key Responsibilities of the District Councils

District Councils will be created in each of the City’s 22 police districts. Each District Council consists of three people who are elected in municipal elections every four years. The main goals of the District Councils are to build stronger connections between the police and the community, and to work with the police to solve problems and set priorities. They will hear residents’ concerns around topics including police interactions with youth and undocumented residents, race relations between police and citizens, and restorative justice initiatives.

To increase community input and oversight of police activity, the District Council members will be responsible for holding monthly public meetings where residents can work with the police on local initiatives and police department policies and practices. Collaboration between the community, District Council members, and law enforcement will be critical in the development and implementation of community policing initiatives. Since specific agendas are not pre-established, each of the elected members of the District Councils will have their ideas of what law enforcement initiatives to focus on. Some of the current candidates are working towards abolition of the police or alternative safety structures such as increasing access to mental health professionals working in crisis situations. Some candidates support increased policing, and others have opinions in between. So, who you vote for will establish the focus of the District Councils in your neighborhood.

Another important function of the District Councils is that they nominate members for the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) — a seven-member citywide body with wide-ranging oversight over the Chicago Police Department, Police Board, and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA). The CCPSA reviews the Police Department budget and can recommend changes to the police budget appropriation. The CCPSA also has the power to appoint and remove the COPA Chief Administrator with City Council approval. When there are openings for Police Superintendent or Police Board members, the CCPSA will develop a shortlist of candidates for the Mayor to choose from. While the Mayor has sole authority to remove the Police Superintendent and Police Board members, the CCPSA can hold a vote of no confidence in that official, triggering a City Council hearing and requiring a public response from the Mayor. To provide more oversight into policing policies, the CCPSA can draft Police Department General Orders, and General Orders cannot become policy without a majority vote from the CCPSA. To increase transparency, the CCPSA can require the Police Superintendent and other key officials to provide data and to appear in public forums to address concerns. Since District Council members will help nominate the CCPSA, its vital to vote for candidates who you believe will shape the culture and financial priorities of law enforcement in the city for the better.

As February 28th is rapidly approaching, find out more about the District Council candidates and their plans for the future of Chicago policing. To prepare for the upcoming election, early voting is currently openand be sure your mail-in ballot is post-marked by February 28. You can visit the Chicago Board of Elections for more information on how to register to vote, early voting and mail-in ballots.

To learn more about how Howard Brown Health contributes to vital advocacy work and has an impact on local, state, and federal policymaking, please visit our Advocacy webpage. To stay up to date with advocacy and policy news like this, sign up for the Center for Education, Research, and Advocacy (ERA)’s newsletter.


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