Tuesday evening, after our deadline for print, Oak Park’s village board was to meet to talk more about policing. We hope we can report that the discussion was civil and productive. That would be a positive change.

The agenda for the evening had two notable items. There was a resolution proffered by Trustee Arti Walker Peddakotla under the unfortunate rubric of “defunding the police.” Talk about an unnecessary brick wall to smash oneself into. Regardless, there are portions of the resolution that work to put intentional changes in our policing in sync with a worthy portion of this village’s history. 

The resolution goes back to 1968 and Oak Park’s nation-leading leap forward to Fair Housing. It continues to 1973 and the adoption of the eloquent and glorious Oak Park Diversity Statement even as it proudly notes the evolution of that document into an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Statement. 

The resolution then calls on Oak Park to be similarly brave today and to acknowledge that systemic racism/white supremacy is baked into Oak Park and every other corner of America. Further that police forces across our history have been actively used to support a white power structure and to put down enslaved Black people, union organizers, civil rights heroes and, sometimes, though not in Oak Park, to squash peaceful protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by police officers in Minnesota. 

If this village board could do right and get that far, then the resolution gets to the heart of reordering resources to provide greater public safety services to Oak Park. And this is a worthy debate. Should the police department shrink some to allow the hiring of mental health workers and social workers to address issues of homelessness? Not an unreasonable thought. The resolution also calls for the shelving of planning and funding for a new police station. We’d say the budget havoc of COVID-19 has already accomplished that.

And the resolution calls for rethinking the role of the Citizen Police Oversight Commission to make it “truly independent, empowered and transparent.”

 Not coincidentally, there is a memo on Tuesday’s agenda to the village board from the assistant village attorney and the HR director recommending at least baby steps toward making the citizen commission more transparent. We’ve reviewed two years of minutes from the commission and it is clearly not transparent when all disciplinary action against officers happens in executive session and those sessions last an average of seven minutes. 

The problem is that having two village bureaucrats making these recommendations is not transparent. Announcing that the police chief is reviewing department policies is not transparent. Having the police department reviewing the rightly pulled “Guide to the Suspicious” is moving toward laughable and certainly tone deaf.

Also on Tuesday night’s agenda was the boilerplate 40-plus-page Request for Proposals for the ill-defined third-party audit of the police department. Read hard enough and one will find a sentence that teases the possibilities of what this exercise is purportedly about. “Making specific recommendations for change to improve techniques, policies and practices of the Oak Park Police Department.” There is a reference to equity and implicit bias. There is a request for an assessment of use-of-force and de-escalation policies.

This moment calls for listening and engaging with residents. Not such a scary notion. An initial 90 minutes of listening resulted in the realization that the Guide to the Suspicious was too often cover for white people to call 911 because they find Black people suspicious — and putting Oak Park cops in lose-lose situations. 

Let’s listen more. Let’s open the reform process to more than the people being reformed. 

Oak Park can do better. 

Join the discussion on social media!

One reply on “A worthy police debate”