Frequently asked questions about GAPA

Download the FAQ as a PDF.


What is GAPA?

GAPA — which stands for the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability — is a coalition of community organizations committed to making neighborhoods safer, improving police practices and accountability, and transforming the relationship between CPD and the communities it serves.

Who makes up the GAPA coalition?

GAPA is made up of community organizations including Community Renewal Society (CRS), Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside (ONE Northside), Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), and TARGET Area Development Corporation. These groups work in neighborhoods across Chicago, including neighborhoods that are most directly affected by violence and police brutality, misconduct, and harassment. GAPA works to ensure that directly impacted community members — especially those in Black and Brown communities that are most affected by police misconduct — lead our work to implement lasting solutions around public safety.

What was the process of creating the GAPA ordinance?

GAPA came together in 2016 in direct response to the Police Accountability Task Force’s recommendation to develop a Community Safety Oversight Board, and was subsequently created through three main phases within the coalition. First, the GAPA coalition brought together more than 1,650 residents in 19 “Community Conversations” across the city to provide an opportunity for a broad and diverse group of Chicagoans to express their concerns about the Chicago Police Department. Then, GAPA conducted national research on civilian oversight bodies across the country to understand what worked, what staffing needs these bodies had, and what they felt are missing. GAPA also consulted with subject matter experts on civilian oversight. Finally, GAPA learned how to make such a system work in Chicago, holding hundreds of meetings with a wide range of stakeholders to make sure the ordinance addresses the city’s challenges with solutions that make sense.

What is the GAPA ordinance?

Over the past five years, the GAPA coalition has worked to develop an ordinance that transforms public safety in Chicago by creating a two-tiered structure of accountability and oversight: a city-wide Community Commission with seven commissioners, and District Councils in each of the 22 police districts in Chicago. If passed, the GAPA ordinance would create the most progressive and democratic civilian oversight system in the United States.

What is GAPA’s Community Commission?

The Community Commission created by GAPA is a seven-person, city-wide body that holds CPD accountable, drives police policy so that it reflects the best practices and community needs, and plays a major role in selecting key public safety leadership.

How is the Community Commission selected?

The Commissioners are selected from candidates approved by the elected District Councils, then appointed by the Mayor and approved by City Council. The GAPA ordinance ensures that the Commission reflects the geographic and experiential diversity of Chicago — including that the Commission include two young people who have previous experience with the justice system or police misconduct.

What are the Community Commission’s powers?

The Commission plays an important role in selecting key public safety leadership in Chicago including the CPD Superintendent, COPA Chief, and Police Board members – to ensure they have the approval of the community. The Commission also can issue a vote of no confidence in police leadership, triggering a vote in City Council and response from the Mayor.

The Commission also works with CPD to improve police policy. The GAPA ordinance lays out a clear process where CPD and the Commission work together in good faith to create policy that both groups can support. In the event that the Commission and CPD do not come to an agreement, the Commission can still vote on the policy. The Commission’s ability to take this vote  holds CPD accountable to the communities they serve.

Further, the Commission has the power to…

  • Establish public safety goals and evaluate progress, ensuring that public safety leaders are truly accountable to the community;
  • Make CPD budget recommendations by reviewing the CPD budget and issuing a public report prior to when the CPD budget is voted on;
  • Promote community engagement and transparency by hosting public forums with the ability to summon police Superintendent and other key public safety officials, as well as publish public reports; and
  • Ensure that police misconduct investigations occur by requiring a COPA investigation if it sees fit.

What are GAPA’s District Councils? 

The GAPA ordinance creates District Councils in each of Chicago’s 22 police districts. In each District Council, three elected community members-  in partnership with the community- will help develop community-based solutions to localized issues of public safety.

What roles and responsibilities do the District Councils have?

District Councils build connections between the community and police by providing residents access to police district leadership and the ability to truly partner with CPD to generate and implement public safety measures. District Councils host monthly meetings where local residents can raise their concerns about public safety. They play a role in selecting Community Commissioners (one member from each of the District Councils sits on a selection committee that approves Commissioner candidates). District Councils also work with the community and CPD to build and expand restorative justice practices in the district. Additionally, District Councils help set the  Commission’s priorities by taking their knowledge of local issues and bringing it to meetings to identify trends and concerns and propose Commission priorities.

How do the District Councils and the Community Commission interact in the structure that the GAPA ordinance lays out?

When GAPA leaders came together to actualize the Police Accountability Task Force’s recommendation to develop a Community Safety Oversight Board, they found it immensely important that this body remain connected to and informed by people on the ground. Therefore, leaders decided to have democratically elected leaders in each police district to remain accountable community members. Operating from the premise that those closest to the problem are the experts in the solution, GAPA leaders created District Councils as a way of ensuring that the Community Commission is always accountable to the community. District Council members are elected at a district level and responsible for being responsive to their residents, they set the Community Commission’s priorities, and they play a key role in identifying and vetting Community Commission candidates.

This relationship between District Councils and the Community Commission makes sure that local issues inform Chicago’s larger public safety efforts. 

How has GAPA responded to the uprisings around racial justice and police brutality in 2020? 

The protests in Chicago following the murder of George Floyd demonstrate that the city cannot wait any longer for real, substantial change to policing. Following the uprisings, GAPA listened to demands from the community and strengthened elements of the ordinance to make it more transformative.

How will GAPA fit into Chicago’s budget? 

GAPA is realistic and viable for Chicago’s budget. GAPA’s budget is about 3.4 million per year, based in part on figures from Los Angeles’ established and successful oversight commission. As we face the economic impact of coronavirus, GAPA will make a huge impact while not taking up a lot of the city’s budget. GAPA will also decrease payouts for police misconduct in the long run.

Why do we need GAPA?

Black and brown communities have been demanding greater police accountability for many years, and GAPA delivers on those demands. The ordinance emerged following the murders of Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd. Almost seven years later, the botched raid and cover up around Anjanette Young show we’re still dealing with the same problems. Following the incident, aldermen decried “widespread policy failures.” GAPA’s structures of civilian oversight and policy-making give the community the tools to prevent such injustices and examples of police misconduct. We need a community-owned space exclusively dedicated to discussing policing and how we create safety in our communities, through policing and through other means, and GAPA provides this space.

How are GAPA and CPAC similar?

Both GAPA and CPAC are giant leaps forward in the long-term project of transforming public safety. Neither will solve all of Chicago’s problems related to public safety, but both are motivated by the same goal of ensuring that every community, especially Black and brown ones, feel safe and protected by those charged with protecting them.

How are GAPA and CPAC different? 

Both GAPA and CPAC agree we need fundamental and systemic change to policing; we just disagree on the best way to get there. For GAPA, it has always been a priority that any legislation that is passed can be operationalized on Day 1, protects our elections from monied interests, and can stand up to legal challenges. We can’t wait any longer for community power over policing and accountability. Like GAPA, CPAC is led by Black and Brown communities, formerly incarcerated people, and people with direct experience of police misconduct. Both of our leaders have worked to create the most progressive and democratic policing civilian oversight system anywhere in the country.