You listen and you hear things.
Oak Park’s village government held two “listening sessions” recently with the intent of hearing from residents about their experiences with Oak Park police. This was a start, but there are many more voices to hear, a wider invitation to be offered. We’re waiting to see how soon and how open that invitation will be.
Still, among the handful of people who took part, there was a common concern over their fellow citizens who call 911 to report “suspicious” activity. Too often those callers are white and the activity is “being Black.” A recent One View recounted a group of Black children playing ball at Euclid Park. Police officers arrived in response to a complaint and found kids in the park doing what kids do — playing.
No suggestion of inappropriate action by Oak Park officers in these cases. But legitimate concerns that official Oak Park and its police department has drummed home the notion for years that attentive citizens are the “eyes and ears” of the department and that all calls to 911 are welcome.
It has been spelled out on Oak Park’s website under the curious heading of “Guide to the Suspicious.” Now that tab on the website has been pulled down at the simultaneous request of the police chief and two village trustees.
That’s good. Most innocently you can chalk this up to the law of unintended consequences. Urge citizens to call and they do. If Oak Park wants to live an examined life, we need to understand how we didn’t anticipate, how we didn’t recognize the consequences of that policy, the racism it promoted, the pain it caused Black citizens.
The village manager, Cara Pavlicek, said removing the guide was an “appropriate action to take.” She’s right. The police chief, LaDon Reynolds, says the department is now reviewing the policy. “We’re looking at it and trying to determine how we can provide information that is appropriate and isn’t misinterpreted.”
There’s the rub.
Do we believe Oak Park village government and its police department should be the entities reviewing the policy? Not on their own.
Pavlicek told the Journal last week that the staff review of the Citizen Police Oversight Committee will be presented soon. Again, maybe a staff review could be a starting point. But surely there are citizens who ought to have a voice in reviewing the Citizen Police Oversight Committee, its work, its role.
It’s good that the Guide to the Suspicious has been scrubbed from the village website. It is good that CPOC is under review. But these are only first steps. The real question is whether village government is ready for the discomfort that will inevitably be part of a genuine, open, honest review of policing in this village.
We’ve said many times that Oak Park has a good to better-than-good police department. Do we have the will to make it a great and modern police department? The first steps are still too timid and too inward looking.