The contract between River Forest police officers and village government expired in April 2019. The central hold-up? The village board will not accede to demands from the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that authority to impose discipline on officers be transferred from the locally appointed Fire and Police Commission to a third-party arbiter. 

Good for the village board. We only wish Oak Park’s village board had been so clear-eyed a few years back when it quietly acquiesced to the same union demand and effectively de-neutered its own Police and Fire Board. 

Local control of discipline within a police department — first from the chief and then a citizen police and fire board — has always been a principle worth fighting for. Never more so than today in this fraught moment of rightful demands for greater accountability of police officers and increased transparency of police behavior.

“We’re fighting tooth and nail for this. This is a big issue for us,” says Cathy Adduci, village president in River Forest. In a statement from the village, this point is driven home: “We believe the union is trying to take control of these disciplinary decisions at a time when police accountability and transparency is paramount. The union’s proposal is out of step and wrong.”

These are unusually strong and public declarations from any municipal entity. We are especially impressed that they are coming from River Forest. This small town is leading the way in actively acknowledging that systemic racism is inevitably part of policing — and every other aspect of governance — in River Forest. 

Far better than Oak Park, River Forest has found a way to voice support for its police department while embracing steps necessary to rethink community policing and to knit together policing and citizen oversight.

Here’s the worry: As is its right, the local FOP lodge is taking the village to arbitration on the contract. And arbiters have been police-friendly in the main. But whatever the outcome, this fight for local police accountability is crucial.  

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