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At 63rd and Cottage Grove, an ebullient crowd of people was gathered outside the storefront headquarters of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), talking excitedly. It was nearly 9:00 p.m. on Feb. 28, and the election returns that were rolling in already indicated that CAARPR’s allies were winning a clear majority of seats on the city’s newly created Police District Councils (PDCs). Upstairs, a rollicking party was underway in the building’s spacious grand ballroom.

“I think history was made tonight. We are one step closer to having a real democratic voice in the way our communities are policed,” Anthony Driver said as he walked into the party. Driver is an interim member of the Community Commission on Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA), a civilian police oversight body that will work closely with the PDCs. “We’ve tried everything else in the city of Chicago . . . except for having actual citizens at the table. And today, that’s finally becoming a reality.”

Inside the second-floor ballroom, dozens of organizers, PDC candidates and their supporters shared a catered meal of fried fish and chicken and clinked victory toasts at the bar while a DJ played booming music. A live feed of election returns was projected above a dance floor that was full of people stepping, and later on, doing the cha cha slide. 

The mood was joyful. Many of those in attendance were supporters of mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson, and his clinching a spot in the April 4 runoff added to the energy in the room.

The people in the ballroom had fought for years to get to this moment. Some had spent decades doing so. Spurred by the fatal shooting of Rekia Boyd by then-Chicago police officer Dante Servin in 2012, they organized a movement that led to the creation of elected civilian councils and a civilian commission with police oversight powers—the first such bodies in the city’s, and the nation’s, history. By the end of election night, the candidates and organizers in the ballroom had won 61 percent of the council seats.

The Chicago City Council passed the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) ordinance, which created the district councils and CCPSA, following not only years of grassroots organizing by CAARPR and its allies in the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), but also months of negotiations with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who tried to block giving any police oversight powers to elected civilians, despite supporting it during her 2019 campaign. What came out of those negotiations was a compromise that gave some oversight powers to the CCPSA and kept some in the mayor’s office.

Each of the city’s 22 police districts will have a three-member elected PDC that interacts with the community and can make recommendations to local police commanders. Those district-level councils also nominate members of the citywide CCPSA and make reports and recommendations to them. They also are in charge of nominating people to fill vacancies on the district councils themselves (which may be necessary immediately after this election in at least one district). 

The CCPSA, whose members are appointed by the mayor from among the district council’s nominees, sets goals for the police administrators, hires and fires COPA’s chief administrator, and nominates candidates for police superintendent, for whom they can also set in motion a process to fire. 

The day after the Feb. 28 election, CPD superintendent David Brown announced his intent to resign effective March 16, and for the first time, the CCPSA began a nationwide search for nominees to replace him.

In the Feb. 28 election, the coalition of organizers who helped pass the ECPS ordinance backed 71 pro-accountability candidates. Forty-one of them are likely to win, with more than 98 percent of precincts reporting results and mail-in ballots being counted until March 14. Three additional write-in candidates aligned with ECPS organizers are also poised to win seats. (See full results at The TRiiBE’s Election Center.)

Update March 16, 2023: Official results released by the Chicago Board of Election Commissiners show that 43 candidates aligned with ECPS (including three write-in candidates) won seats on Police District Councils.

Eight of the three-member police district councils (PDCs)—the 6th, 10th, 12th, 17th, 19th, 20th, 24th, and 25th—will be entirely made up of ECPS-aligned council members. Eight more councils—the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th,14th, 15th and 18th—will have two each, giving the ECPS coalition’s allies control of 16 out of 22 PDCs. 

“We got a majority of the district representatives,” Frank Chapman, a field organizer with CAARPR and one of the leaders of the coalition that got the ordinance passed, told The TRiiBE the next day by phone. He noted the coalition’s many “decisive victories, either all or two-thirds of the representatives,” as well as a the single seats won by ECPS candidates in the 9th and 11th Districts. “But the main thing is, we were victorious, and that’s great.”

Candidates backed by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) won two-seat majorities in each of the 8th, 16th and 22nd police districts, and one seat each in the 5th and 15th districts. The police union endorsed 19 candidates for the PDC races, eight of whom were elected. The FOP also spent $25,000 on two election attorneys (one of whom ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the 25th PDC) and spent $15,410 to support a candidate who lost his race in the 19th District. 

Candidates who were not endorsed by the FOP but had other law enforcement ties also won one seat in the 18th district and two in the 22nd district, as did Mark Hamberlin, a candidate in the 8th district who has variously claimed and denied having FOP support. 

“For the FOP even to be allowed to be the opposition is crazy,” Chapman said. “This is an organization who are diametrically opposed to this legislation to begin with. So their involvement, their support of candidates, putting out a list saying who they endorse, this is scandalous.” 

The only reason the police union was running candidates for PDCs, Chapman said, was to “undermine it.”   

Each PDC sends one member to quarterly and annual meetings with delegates from all 22 councils, where they report findings from their districts and make policy recommendations to the CCPSA. The PDCs also meet collectively to nominate CCPSA commissioners. The decisive victory for ECPS-supported candidates across a majority of districts means the coalition should be able to advance its agenda in those meetings—something Chapman says they fully intend to do. 

“We have the majority of the votes,” in citywide meetings, Chapman said. “Which means, we will be able to push forward with our agenda, which is to use these councils and use our democratic option to say who polices our communities and how they’re policed, and to get more control of policing in this city.”


Inside the ballroom, Donnell Williams, a supporter of 3rd District candidate (and former TRiiBE community engagement associate) Anthony David Bryant, who successfully ran on a pro-accountability platform and was also in attendance, called the night’s results a win-win. “The goal is to have accountability and bring more power back to the taxpayer, to the community [and] to the people,” Williams said. “Some of this stuff has to be led from the City level, but eventually when the power’s given back to the people, we’ll know that we’re doing what we’re supposed to. 

Alan Chavoya and Lauryn Cross, members of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR) who had traveled to Chicago to help CAARPR in the election’s final days, sat together beside the dance floor. “It’s historic, and it’s very impactful,” Chavoya said. “We always look to Chicago for inspiration, and seeing this historic step to getting community control is very motivational and very inspirational.” 

“I think the conditions in Chicago give us a glimpse into what the future may look like,” Cross said. The ECPS victory in Chicago is an example organizers elsewhere can point to, she added. “Community control isn’t an idea that’s up in the clouds. It’s material, and something that’s already happened. This makes me really hopeful for the future and really proud of Chicago for trailblazing.”

Chapman said that winning a majority of PDC seats is not the end of the struggle in Chicago.

“We got to continue to have the attitude of defeating [the FOP] going forward,” he said, “because we cannot let them deny us the democratic option to have these elected bodies—something that we fought for for the last 50 years.”

Update March 10, 2023: This story previously said the ECPS coalition had a majority of seats on the 9th Police District Council; the coalition won one seat on that council. We regret the error.

Update March 16, 2023: This story has been updated to reflect official results released by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners on March 15; Carmelita Earls, an FOP-backed candidate, won the third seat in the 15th Police District Council. As a result, the 15th district will have a two-seat majority of candidates backed by the ECPS Coalition.

is the digital news editor for The TRiiBE.