Police reform in our village — and in our country overall — is a crucial issue and is multifaceted. It is not merely a matter of “defunding the police,” a term that has many meanings. Actually, one of the goals related to the defunding issue is really to shift some responsibilities from the police to more appropriate agencies that are better qualified to assist with mental health, homelessness and other crises. I agree with that.
On the other hand, we need to reallocate funding to include specialized police training. Obviously, there is a disconnect between police departments and communities of color throughout this country. We need police officers to have mandatory training in avoiding provocation; de-escalation; non-violent and non-lethal police techniques to end confrontations when de-escalation does not work. And most important to me is Cultural Competency training so that police departments and police officers have a changed mindset toward people of color — specifically Black people.
It seems obvious that too many police officers do not seem to see Black people as human beings, but as threats that must be extinguished without hesitation. I blame the media for a lot of the images that support the negative stereotypes that reinforce those feelings. To counter that, positive interactions between citizens/communities of color and police departments/officers are very important.
In addition, rooting out certain types of aggressive personalities; screening out militia-type and openly racist candidates; addressing implicit biases; as well as understanding cultural norms, style, mannerisms and “ways of being” are all factors that are important for positive relationship building between citizens of color and all kinds of public servants — police officers, firefighters, medical personnel, teachers and school administrators — if we seriously want to have better outcomes.
This kind of training makes people more understanding of those who are different from themselves and helps frame our interpretations of their behavior. If public servants are more familiar with cultural norms of others, they are more likely to accurately interpret words and behavior instead of overreacting in fear with unnecessary provocation, escalation and violence.
Personally, I believe that police officers should have to live in the cities where they are hired to protect and serve, and, in the case of a village like Oak Park, that we should at least have a program that helps all of our public servants be able to afford to live here. In that way our police officers and other public servants would be more likely to see us first as neighbors.
Lynn Allen, a longtime Oak Park resident, is the former director of the District 97 Multicultural Education Department.