On this year’s ballot, voters are asked: “Shall the Village of Oak Park defund its Police Department?” It’s important to send a strong message by voting “No.” It’s also important to vote for the three trustee candidates committed to reimagining community safety without significantly defunding our police: Stephen Morales, Ravi Parakkat and Lucia Robinson of Unite Oak Park.
Make no mistake, “defunding” means reducing what Oak Park spends on its police department by as much as 27% — and that’s just for starters. A defunding resolution was defeated by only two trustee votes in August 2020. If just two more pro-defunding trustees (or one trustee and a village president) are elected in April, our community safety is truly in jeopardy.
We should not be complacent. This is no time to defund our police. Crime was up 10% in 2020 vs. 2019. Inadequate police staffing is dangerous, as we saw when insurgents stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. In Minneapolis, demoralized police officers have departed in droves after the city council voted to defund/dismantle their department. Violent crime has surged. Now Minneapolis is reversing course.
Reallocating funding from the police to social services won’t reduce crime or save money. From 2015 to 2019, non-Oak Parkers accounted for 83.5% of arrests in our village. Our police already call in social workers. They’re trained by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and have received its praise. They’re also trained in de-escalation techniques. Maybe that’s why no Oak Park officer has discharged a weapon in 10 years.
It may sometimes make sense to send social workers in initially. But where there has been (or might be) violence, a sworn officer must be on the response team. Then the response will cost more.
There does not appear to be any shortage of social services in Oak Park. An internet search finds some 150 social service organizations in/serving Oak Park, with many provided/funded by District 97, District 200, the village of Oak Park, the library, and the park district. If anything, we appear to have a proliferation of duplicative service providers. Defunding advocates falsely claim that the village prioritizes policing over social services. The fact is less than 13% of all taxing body spending goes to policing, and that includes pensions.
Decisions on funding the Oak Park police should be based on local conditions, not on what may be true elsewhere. The Oak Park police have about 65,000 encounters in a typical year. Yet there are just 12-15 complaints annually on average, which rarely pertain to use of force. Oak Park is a relatively affluent town adjacent to a lower-income, high-crime community. This makes us more vulnerable than other communities of our size. Average police staffing statistics based only on Oak Park’s population do not take our situation into account.
Voting for Morales, Parakkat and Robinson is a vote for community safety, fiscal discipline, sensible solutions and experience. Please vote for them in this election.
Judith Alexander has lived in Oak Park since 1982. This is the first time she has endorsed local candidates.