In the wake of the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black citizens at the hands of police, the nation has its attention fixed on law enforcement, how police officers conduct themselves and the disciplinary actions taken when officers fall out of line.

Oak Park is no exception. 

That makes the upcoming negotiations on a new contract with patrol officers in the Oak Park police department especially timely. The current contract expires Dc. 31, 2020. Negotiations will begin in early September.

In interviews Monday, some members of the village board said they hope the negotiations reflect the urgency of the national moment.  

Oak Park Trustee Deno Andrews said, given the current climate, citizens have a “bigger appetite” for diving into police contracts and understanding what they entail. 

“If there are things that can be improved, that would increase transparency and improve the opportunity for justice, I think the board would probably be favorable to those measures,” he said.

Andrews said he also believes public confidence in police oversight, as well as transparency, are necessary.

“I think that the public needs to know that there is transparency in disciplinary matters, and the public needs to have confidence that whatever oversight mechanism we have in place can easily stand up to public scrutiny,” he said. 

Andrews also encouraged citizens to meet with trustees to see that their interests are represented during the collective bargaining process. Negotiating sessions are held privately with the village board being updated only in executive session.

“We’re going to have to meet with the public individually as trustees,” Andrews said. “If the public wants input, the public should be communicating with elected officials earlier rather than later.”

Trustee Susan Buchanan said Monday that there are other opportunities, in addition to contract negotiations, to change policing. 

“I think that this contract negotiation with police officers is one tool that we can use in the process to transform community safety,” she said.

Buchanan said she’s willing to listen to what citizens would like to see advocated for during the negotiation process.

“I don’t pretend to be an expert on policing. I’m listening, I’m reading,” she said. “I am very open to people emailing me and calling me who want to educate me about the changes they want to see in a police contract.”

When it comes to the police department, Buchanan would like to see a change in how Oak Park views community safety. 

“I am interested in seeing an innovative transformation of how we look at community safety that involves more funding going to social services, and less funding going to police who go out on calls that they are not trained for,” Buchanan said.

Those include calls related to mental health, drug overdoses, loitering, homelessness and other issues that other agencies may be more equipped to handle.

Buchanan had an interesting reason for wanting to negotiate officers working overtime. Working hours is always discussed during each contract negotiation process.

“One thing I would want to see is the hours worked because they’re put on extended shifts, they do a lot of overtime, and that is going to contribute to poor judgment,” Buchanan said.

In addition to overtime, Buchanan would like to see the contract address mental health and include care provisions for officers. 

“Psychological science says when you witness a traumatic event or participate in a traumatic event, your physiology takes like six to eight hours to calm down,” Buchanan said. “If we wanted to be really innovative in policing, we would really pay attention to what an officer is expected to do after seeing or participating in a traumatic event.”

Whether it can be accomplished or not in negotiations, Buchanan would like police officers to abandon the code of silence and speak out against officers who exhibit transgressive or dangerous behavior.

Buchanan, like Andrews, believes greater transparency into cases of police misconduct and discipline is necessary.

“That’s something that’s going to help break this code and help break the toxic masculinity that comes with some police officers and their behavior,” Buchanan said. “It will help hold them more accountable. It will help decrease the militaristic approach to policing to community safety.”

Negotiations on the successor agreement cannot begin until 120 days, roughly Sept. 1, before the current contract expires on New Years’ Eve.

“Collective bargaining or labor relations in the state of Illinois are all governed and subject to the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and in that act, there is an Illinois Labor Relations Board,” said Oak Park Village Manager Cara Pavlicek. “Everything we do is in accordance with that state agency.”

Lisa Shelley, deputy village manager, will represent the village of Oak Park during negotiations. Shelley has been chief negotiator for the majority of Pavlicek’s tenure as village manager. Representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 8 will represent patrol officers. 

Oak Park officers Joseph Nash and Dustin Troik, of the FOP, did not respond to requests for comment. 

Oak Park village trustees and the mayor do not participate directly in the negotiations but decide what contractual changes they would like negotiated.

“Because Oak Park is a manager form of government, the elected officials don’t sit at the bargaining table,” said Pavlicek. “As the policymakers, they establish the perimeters of which management, the respective departments and HR have to work within.”

The village board would have the ability to direct Shelley to negotiate the terms of the officer misconduct disciplinary process in the successor agreement, because the current agreement includes disciplinary measures.  

The current contract stipulates a certain measure of privacy be afforded to officers during the disciplinary process. Whether discipline should be a more public matter can also be negotiated, as can the measures of discipline per infraction.

However, according to Pavlicek, discipline for police misconduct is governed primarily by the state of Illinois.

“Generally, as an organization, we have always negotiated what we think is in the best interest of both labor and management to be transparent about a log and a history,” she said. 

The village board has yet to discuss terms of the negotiation in executive session and staff has yet to provide recommendations. 

“It’s really hard to put forward a negotiating position in the media before you start a negotiation,” said Pavlicek. 

During a June 22 meeting, the board of trustees made a commitment to evaluate certain aspects of police department operations, particularly its use-of-force policies and to engage the community in conversations about community policing.

“We don’t yet know what we don’t know in terms of what can be improved, where it can be improved,” said Andrews. “It’s really early.”

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