President Foreman's Statement on Arbitration of Police Discipline to the City Council's Committee on Workforce Development

December 7, 2023

Good afternoon, Chairman Rodriguez and members of the committee. I am Ghian Foreman, president of the Police Board.

No one knows better than you do how important it is to maintain safety in our communities.  And you all know from your experience as leaders of your wards that the residents of Chicago must trust government, especially its police department, to believe that there will be safety.  You have guided this city through a tumultuous time, establishing strong a police-accountability system and holding all of us in that system accountable to the public trust.  The issue we are discussing today is another opportunity for you to build and maintain public trust in the accountability system.

Chicago has the most extensive civilian oversight of police of any major U.S. city, with each of the four civilian agencies playing a vital role in the City’s police-accountability system.  One of the primary duties of the Police Board is to build public confidence in the accountability system by serving as an impartial decision maker in the most serious police disciplinary cases.  These cases range from charges of unjustified police shootings to other significant allegations of misconduct, such as use of excessive force, illegal searches, and sexual misconduct.

The arbitrator’s decision, if allowed to take effect, will be a serious setback for police accountability in Chicago. There are 19 discharge cases against police officers currently before the Police Board, including five police-shooting cases and four domestic-violence cases. The arbitrator’s decision will drive these cases behind closed doors at a time when it has never been more important to increase the public’s confidence in the process for handling allegations of police misconduct and to build greater trust between the police and the communities they serve.

For more than 60 years (since 1961), the Police Board has had the sole responsibility for deciding cases in which the Superintendent of Police recommends that a sworn officer be discharged from the Chicago Police Department.  The Board has performed this duty with independence and openness.

The public can stay informed throughout the Police Board’s process for considering these cases because the Board places a high value on transparency and makes a great deal of information available to the public. The arbitration process, on the other hand, takes place behind closed doors.

  • Charges brought against officers are available on the Board’s website. They are not made public in arbitration.
  • All of the Board’s disciplinary hearings are open to the public. The arbitration hearings are closed to the public.
  • The Board takes final action on all cases in public at its monthly meeting, where each Board member’s vote is announced and recorded. Arbitrators make their decisions in private.
  • The Board posts on its website its written decisions, which include detailed explanations of the reasons for the Board’s findings. Arbitrators’ decisions are not posted on a City website.

In addition, the Board publishes monthly, quarterly, and annual reports of cumulative data on its decisions, which enables the public to evaluate the Board’s overall work.

The members of the Police Board are a diverse group of Chicago residents who come to the Board from different backgrounds and perspectives. The Board currently consists of four men and four women; four of the Board members are Black and four are White (there is currently one vacancy). The Board members thoroughly discuss each case as a group, sharing their opinions and perspectives, and make decisions by majority vote. The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, the Mayor, and the City Council are all involved in selecting Police Board members.  

Arbitrators, on the other hand, are individual decision makers selected by mutual agreement between FOP and City attorneys. Arbitrators are not required to live in Chicago and are a much less diverse group. The five arbitrators chosen to decide FOP suspension grievances in 2023 are all male, at least four are white, and at least three appear to not live in Chicago, including one based in Michigan.

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 arbitrator’s decision is allowed to stand.

Thank you very much for your consideration of my comments.

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