A week ago, Oak Park’s recently reformulated village board heard the biannual report of the Citizen Police Oversight Committee (CPOC). Its chair, Donovan Pepper, told trustees the committee had reviewed 10 complaints forwarded to it by the police department’s own internal affairs division or watch commander. The internal police review substantiated 3 of the 10 complaints. CPOC made its own review, within the notable limits of its authority, and sustained those three complaints.
This Monday the village board considered final adoption of its primary goals for the year ahead. One of the five overarching goals relates to community safety. And among the specifics within that goal is “Explore CPOC to be independent and have independence in their oversight of the police department.”
Clearly stated and long overdue.
That Oak Park has a system in which citizens file complaints about police conduct and then the police do the investigating is ludicrous. Certainly in this moment.
CPOC is largely toothless, a rubber stamp on the department. That CPOC does not actually have the full register of department regulations is troubling. That the police chief has been tasked with reviewing those regulations on his own is not reasonable. That CPOC does not see the names of the officers who have received citizen complaints makes it impossible to note repeat complaints.
In its presentation last week, the committee offered the board its initial recommendations on ways the citizen complaint process might be overhauled.
“What’s the true model of civilian oversight of police and how best can we utilize our role as an entity that makes recommendations to you, the village board,” asked Pepper in his presentation.
There is now an alignment, we believe, between the new village board and the members of CPOC. We’ll watch that evolve as the village board works toward its goals for the year. We’d urge the police department and village administration to get in alignment, to be active partners in substantially shifting the power center in our community’s civilian responsibility to oversee the policing of this village.
The nature of the complaints, at least as they come down through the current internal systems, reflects somewhat modest concerns. That half of the complaints filed in this period come from people of color, that some 90 percent of the complaints were lodged against white, male officers is of genuine concern.
As we have said multiple times before, Oak Park has a good to very good police department. Now is the time to build a great police department in a community that values both safety and fairness.
This will also be the year, based on board goals, to consider non-police options for responding to 911 and non-moving violations, to review ordinances which disproportionately target Black and Brown youth, review hiring processes in the department and reconsider how the village-run adjudication system might rethink its handling of young people.
This opportunity is right in front of us. We should approach it with optimism and good will.