Oak Park’s village board tackled many different issues related to police reform during its Sept. 29 meeting, but reached no consensus on the role the Citizen Police Oversight Committee (CPOC) played in police disciplinary matters.
CPOC oversees the process for complaints made by citizens against a police officer or police officers and the investigations into the complaints. The commission does not have the authority to dole out disciplinary measures nor does it conduct investigations. Investigations are conducted internally by police.
The village board directed staff to carry out a review of CPOC during a June 22 meeting. Assistant Village Attorney Rasheda Jackson conducted the review of the committee’s procedural rules and the Oak Park village code. Jackson returned to the board Sept. 29 with the determination that CPOC was operating within the perameters of both.
“The only thing that I found that CPOC was not doing was providing the semi-annual report to the board,” said Jackson.
That was rectified and a report covering the span of two years was submitted to the village board and added to the meeting’s agenda.
Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla believed the review of CPOC should not have been centered around whether or not the committee was working within the perameters of the ordinance under which it was created.
“I think the framing of the question of does CPOC align with the current ordinance wasn’t really the right question to ask because we know that it aligns with the current ordinance. It’s just not working the way that it should,” Walker-Peddakotla said.
According to Walker-Peddakotla, the goal should be establishing a truly independent citizen police oversight commission that can hold police accountable and provides complete transparency over policing.
“That should not be a controversial point,” Walker-Peddakotla said.
Walker-Peddakotla said local police reform activist group Freedom to Thrive Oak Park did a review of CPOC using a framework to determine best police oversight practices created by “over 100 elected officials nation-wide” and found CPOC “truly lacking” in its ability to carry out independent oversight.
Walker-Peddakotla has been involved in organizing activities with Freedom to Thrive.
Based on staff observations, Jackson gave the board a list of recommendations for CPOC, one of which was to make CPOC sessions public to provide more transparency.
“There still has to be a way where the parties can remain confidential and not increase village liability if there was pending litigation” or even the threat of imminent litigation, said Jackson.
Staff also suggested all subsequent semi-annual CPOC reports be made public.
“And finally, the suggestion was that CPOC’s evaluations occur after the final determination of the chief and after all procedural due process requirements are met,” said Jackson.
That suggestion was made due to the fact that incidents contain confidential information, which could have the potential of increasing village liability or influence trial strategies or defenses for pending litigation, according to Jackson.
Walker-Peddakotla recommended broader responsibilities be given to CPOC, stating that CPOC’s authority had been eroded over time, with removal of three forms of oversight powers from its ordinance: internal complaint oversight, studies related to policing and patterns of officer discipline.
“Those are three things that should come back,” said Walker-Peddakotla.
Walker-Peddakotla said she wanted CPOC to also have the ability to access evidence, investigate incidents, compel testimonies and issue subpoenas and witnesses as needed. She also said CPOC should have a membership reflective of the communities most “impacted by police surveillance and brutality and violence.”
Walker-Peddakotla also wanted the system of filing complaints against police improved and for general police orders to be published online and reviewed by CPOC.
Trustee Simone Boutet agreed with a number of Walker-Peddakotla’s statements, including CPOC having the ability to access dashboard camera footage and to review general police orders, but believed that village staff should administer discipline to police.
“What I envision for CPOC is that they exist to be a check and balance and a transparency check and balance to make sure we don’t have a culture of lax discipline in our police department, such that it’s a culture of silence or a code of blue brotherhood or whatever it’s informally called,” said Boutet.
Boutet said she did not see CPOC as the disciplinary body itself or investigating the methods of discipline but one that “checks on it openly.” The review of discipline, Boutet said, should fall on the commissioners of the Board of Police and Fire, a different citizen commission.
Trustee Susan Buchanan had questions about “conflicting” CPOC responsibilities in Jackson’s legal review of CPOC, provided in the meeting agenda.
“On the legal review, it says that the police department provides discipline recommendations to the CPOC. This conflicts with the process of complaints,” she said. “That says the chief imposes discipline, and that’s the point it goes to CPOC.”
Buchanan agreed with Boutet and Walker-Peddakotla in CPOC having subpoena powers and the selection and membership of the commission.
Trustee Deno Andrews agreed that CPOC should have access to dashboard camera records but not the ability to issue subpoenas, saying certain things should be reserved for the court system, while Trustee Dan Moroney believed the suggestions staff provided for CPOC were well thought out and adequate.
Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb resoundingly disagreed with giving CPOC subpoena powers.
“It’s going to be very hard for me to support a commission that’s going to be totally independent and issue subpoenas and get in the way of litigation when we have litigation going on,” said the mayor.
Abu-Taleb said that no one could anticipate the future or what position the village may find itself in.
“We have to be able to reserve the right that when we hire a lawyer to defend the village that we don’t have another body that gets in the way and distracts the case and makes it difficult for everybody else,” Abu-Taleb said.
The village board took no official action to direct staff to revise the staff’s CPOC recommendations and the commission’s responsibilities.