(Village of Oak Park Police Department)

A discussion of 2020 crime stats in Oak Park during a Monday night village board meeting turned instead into an argument over the movement to defund the police. 

During the March 8 meeting, Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds summarized the statistics, which showed an increase in crime in several categories. Throughout the meeting, several trustees cited the statistics to suggest that reducing police funding would make the situation worse, while also praising the department for its more community-oriented approach. 

Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, who has pushed to reduce the police budget in favor of investing more in social services, questioned the value of saturating neighborhoods with police officers and argued that even police stops that didn’t result in arrests would lead to trauma. 

Reynolds’ report singled out several major crime categories. As with Chicago area as a whole, carjackings were up. He said the village also saw an increase in batteries, thefts and “aggravated discharge of firearm,” when someone fires a weapon at or near a person, a vehicle or an occupied building.

(Village of Oak Park Police Department)

According to the presentation, the number of carjackings went up between 2019 and 2020 from 16 to 20 – though that’s still lower than 21 carjackings in 2018 and at par with 19 carjackings in 2017. The number of aggravated discharges of firearms was the same as in 2019 – six, which represented a sharp increase compared to 0 in 2018 and 2 in 2017. The number of aggravated batteries is the only statistic that has been going up consistently increasing from 49 in 2019 to 67 in 2020.  

The chief said the police department responded by sending more officers to what their analysis determined to be crime hot spots. Throughout the meeting, Reynolds said police were meant to act as a deterrent rather than to try arrest as many as people as possible, though he acknowledged that stops did sometimes happen. 

Trustee Dan Moroney said the numbers showed how important maintaining current police staffing was. “In my mind, reducing staffing, that response time has nowhere to go but up,” he said. 

Trustee Simone Boutet said that, while she believes police needs to move more towards community service and de-escalation, maintaining the staffing levels was important, too.

Throughout the meeting, Reynolds demurred on questions about changes to police funding, saying only that the budget request he sends to the board reflects the department’s needs.

“We look at needs of our agency, we look at the staffing level and everything that goes into the policing of our community,” he said. “ I think [the budget] is appropriate and I think it will help us meet the needs of the village.”

Walker-Peddakotla questioned the value of community saturation, arguing that social workers would do more good in those situations, since even stops that don’t result in arrests can cause trauma. 

“What does it mean for people that are racially profiled by the police or are likely to be policed because they’re Black?” she said. “That pain hits deeply, and we just refuse to want to even have the conversation about it.”

Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb said that, having experienced discrimination himself as a youth growing up in the Gaza Strip, he agreed with Walker-Peddakotla that such incidents shouldn’t be tolerated. But he also questioned how prevalent that was, saying that she gave anecdotes without providing proof. And, while Abu-Taleb didn’t name her specifically, he said that no one on the board is in any position to talk to Reynolds about Black experience. 

“For any of us, to make the chief think that we know more about his experience, as a Black man, I think it’s insulting to the chief,” he said.

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Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...

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