Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:
The cop shop: A trio of Wednesday Journalists were at the Oak Park Police Department Friday to talk through access to information issues with LaDon Reynolds, the still new, by my standards, police chief and several of his colleagues.
A fruitful discussion.
Not one to miss an opportunity, though, the chief urged us to stay on for a tour of the department’s facilities in the basement of village hall at Madison and Lombard. He even invited Village Manager Cara Pavlicek to join us.
Admittedly I have not toured the police space in decades. And I assume we were invited because the editorial page of the Journal has been, at best, lukewarm in recent years as talk has percolated about the need for a new police station. It is not disrespect to our police department, which is well above average. Our concern has been about cost and taxes.
With property tax angst rightly rising, how many construction projects — village government, park district, high school, elementary schools — can taxpayers absorb? And my parallel question, how bad can the police department be? It’s only 46 years old. Built, obviously, at the same time as the “new” village hall in 1974.
Well, folks, Oak Park can have a long debate over taxes and what is affordable, but after Friday’s tour, I have to say there is no debate the police station is dismal, obsolete, overcrowded and not built for anything resembling modern policing. Further, because a new facility has long been contemplated, the existing station has seen virtually no upgrades for what appears to be decades. Reynolds was excited to show off two bathrooms and the women’s locker room that had been modestly refurbished in the past couple of years. That’s it.
Office spaces for detectives, training, records are woefully cramped. The shooting range, state-of-the-art in the 1970s, no longer functions. Nothing flows logically, resulting in logistical issues of separation when victims and alleged perpetrators are both in the facility. The hallways are filled with mismatched metal cabinets used for storage. Officers’ lockers are not deep enough to hold boots. There is virtually no meeting space, no community space.
And that doesn’t even get to the issue that everything is 1970s brown and, of course, being in the basement, there is not a single window.
Gutting a working police station would be difficult but not impossible. Building a new facility on the south end of the village hall campus is an option but may not be big enough. The price tag on any significant updating is in the tens of millions.
I certainly had my eyes opened. Would urge, though, that any discussion of a major fix should also include a thorough-going public and positive discussion about policing in Oak Park. Modern policing, more respectful engagement, more community-based, would require what sort of police station? God knows, something far different from the current grim facility.
CPD’s interim chief: Instructive to look at the comments made in a speech Monday by Charlie Beck, Chicago’s interim police chief. He is looking to flood neighborhoods with officers doing active outreach to young people as a way to bring down violence. He describes community policing “on steroids” as the essential method of building trust. Ideas I’m betting Chief Reynolds would be open to discussing for Oak Park.
Honor and connection: On a number of fronts genuine connections are growing between Oak Park and Austin. Yes, it took 50 years — a half century — to begin moving beyond the fear and the suspicion that has captured all of us on the Greater West Side. That’s what America’s preoccupation and avoidance on race metastasizes into.
So the news this week that the Leaders Network, an alliance of West Side ministers, will present its 2020 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Beloved Community Award to Rabbi Max Weiss and the Oak Park Temple congregation is great and good news. Weiss, a leading member of the Community of Congregations and now a board member at the Leaders Network, has been building bridges and bringing the social justice fight for five years now.
Powerful bonds, growing understanding and respect, and passion for people are growing this small miracle of connection.