Oak Park’s village board clashed sharply Monday evening over how to approach police reform discussions in the village. Two votes, one early in the meeting and another at the end, delivered some direction to staff on next steps.
In the first vote, trustees agreed 6-1 to accept Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb’s June 8 pledge to the Obama Foundation to evaluate local police use-of-force policies, to address issues of police violence and systemic racism.
That vote followed disagreements which started not even 10 minutes into the meeting.
“I am not in support of this resolution as written for several reasons,” said Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla. “The first is that we cannot just have a resolution that speaks to the Obama Foundation pledge because in this moment, that pledge and taking that pledge is not enough.”
Secondly, Walker-Peddakotla said the pledge had to acknowledge the harm done by the current and previous village boards of Oak Park for not listening and responding to complaints of racial profiling by local police officers.
“We have to have some reparations language in this resolution because we’re not even acknowledging that, up until this point, this resolution, we have ignored as a village the claims from people about the fact that we’ve had problems in our policing,” she said.
Walker-Peddakotla said the resolution’s lack of commitment to repairing past harm caused the resolution to mean very little to those who have experienced police violence, especially in the form of racial profiling.
She said the police reform discussion “cannot just be about the use-of-force policy,” her third reason for not supporting the resolution.
The board passed the resolution with only Walker-Peddakotla dissenting.
Despite the mayor calling for cooperation, disagreements between board members ramped up after the resolution was passed, with the discussion of what directions the board should give staff to carry out regarding implementation of the framework detailed in the Obama Foundation pledge.
In a presentation to the board Village Manager Cara Pavlicek recommended giving the public greater transparency into a number of police-related topics, including the officer hiring processes, the legal foundation of police, equipment use and facility use, the department’s promotion and disciplinary policies, as well as the department’s organizational structure, collective bargaining processes, and the responsibilities of citizen commissions connected to policing.
Following the gathering of community feedback, Pavlicek recommended giving Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds the opportunity to make recommendations and then allowing the community to comment on them.
Finally, the board would then have a discussion about the recommendations. Pavlicek asked assistant village attorney Rasheda Jackson to act as the administrative lead during the process.
The mayor called for a complete and comprehensive, fact-driven audit.
“I’m committed to having our police department audited by an independent third party, preferably an academic institution, for the purpose of examining our policies and procedures both,” said Abu-Taleb.
Walker-Peddakotla wanted to know if use of force was the biggest problem in the police department because Pavlicek called it most important in her memorandum.
“What were the metrics used to come up with the conclusion that the use of force is the most important thing we need to evaluate in our policing of Oak Park at this time?” she asked.
“I feel that the authority and ability of police officers to make the judgments to use force, and most notably deadly force, is one of the most serious things they can do,” said Pavlicek. “But I leave it to the village board.”
Walker-Peddakotla also asked Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds to provide the number of use-of-force complaints that have been filed against the police department within a calendar year. She also asked if the department has a record of that information over multiple years.
“I do not have that information at my fingertips,” Reynolds said. “Based on my review of all complaints that come through the village, I can only think of one in this past year that we heard at CPOC (Citizen Police Oversight Commission).”
Reynolds said complaints against police are typically about discourtesy or lack of understanding of process.
Walker-Peddakotla said she didn’t think use of force was the main problem with policing in Oak Park because a report from Freedom to Thrive, an organization which she helped create “because this board was resistant to looking into matters of policing,” found that Oak Park’s use-of-force policy “is actually OK.”
Trustee Susan Buchanan said the village has a major opportunity to reevaluate public safety and suggested the village put together a task force, as well as hire an experienced consultant, with which Trustee Deno Andrews agreed.
Andrews wanted the consultant to guide the board through conversations and to collect accurate data.
“We all want to see policing that is proper, that treats people fairly with dignity and respect,” said Trustee Dan Moroney.
Moroney said there were two stances regarding policing: one that considered police integral in maintaining community safety and the other was looking to defund police.
He added that painting police as a whole in a bad light is “damaging to the people you purport to represent.”
“Basically, what he just said is he doesn’t want me involved in the conversation,” Walker-Peddakotla said.
“For the record, Arti, if your group wants to abolish the police, I don’t want you leading the effort in it,” said Moroney.
Trustee Simone Boutet said Reynolds should be involved in the conversation because he has both the perspective of being a member of the police and as a Black man; she was confused with what specifically the board wanted a consultant to do.
“I’ve been a black male in America for almost 49 years. These issues that we’re talking about, this is me; this is my life,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds also believed that the village could learn just as much without a consultant.
As the meeting came to a close, the board directed staff to hold a community-based conversation, research an independent consultant or auditor and review the ordinance establishing CPOC and the parameters for their operations.
In this decision, Walker-Peddakotla was also the sole negative vote.