In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi movie, Minority Report, the sentry for the prison cautions Chief John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise, as he proceeds to access crime archives: “Careful, Chief. You dig up the past, all you get is dirty.” That pretty much sums up my discovery with the village of Oak Park as to how the majority of police misconduct complaints in Oak Park have evaporated quietly.
In my letter to the editor,* published in Wednesday Journal on April 7 [Asian discrimination must end, Viewpoints], one issue was about my experience with the Oak Park Police Department (OPPD) and the Citizen Police Oversight Committee (CPOC), which is supposed to “monitor and evaluate the processing of all citizen complaints regarding police misconduct.” I’ve since uncovered the pitfalls of the process by delving into real data from March 2018 to August 2020.**
1. The glove that doesn’t fit
According to CPOC, OPPD investigations into alleged police misconduct complaints are conducted by a watch commander or the Internal Affairs division. In my opinion, the objectivity of self-assessments is questionable. The document further states that “[OPPD] Internal investigations include a review of the complaint to determine any rule violations.” While on the surface the procedure may sound logical, in reality OPPD has the luxury to classify complaints based on whether they intend to let the officers off the hook.
For example, in my incident, I was up against a white female resident, and I specifically spelled out that the officer handled the matter with racial bias. However, rather than classifying my complaint under “General Order 2.17 Prohibition of Bias Based Policing” rule violation, OPPD assigned “Rule #26 Courtesy to the General Public” and “Rule #4 Abuse of Authority” and conveniently rejected my claim. How would they determine whether the officer violated any of the rules and regulations that govern their conduct if they are not measured by the relevant rules? This reminds me of that infamous quote, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
2. The rubber stamp
During that period, 12 out of 14 CPOC meetings (86%) ushered in unanimous (or unanimous with 1 abstaining) votes on the outcomes of OPPD internal investigations. Overall, 90% of OPPD conclusions were “upheld” by CPOC with the remaining 10% labeled “sent to board.” Essentially CPOC operates more like an echo chamber than an oversight body, which shouldn’t be a surprise, given that CPOC members are appointees of the village president.
3. The runaway jury
One might assume that CPOC doesn’t just vote on OPPD conclusions; they probably also review the investigations which they claim they do. A village official insisted that police-complaint-related work is conducted in the “executive session” portion of the CPOC meeting, and declined my request for information. This request was later blocked by a village attorney, despite the fact that I was advised by the village official to go the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) route. Based on available CPOC data, which clearly recorded time stamps, some of these executive sessions lasted from 1 to 3 minutes. It is not humanly possible for any responsible committees to review and cast vote on cases within that length of time.
Case in point: On Feb. 4, 2020, a total of 13 rule violations were supposedly reviewed in the executive session which reconvened at 9:15 p.m. and adjourned at 9:16 p.m. You do the math.
4. The born supremacy, of white females
CPOC data depicts that police complaints filed by white females enjoy the highest rate of success; rule violations associated with white female complainants deemed “sustained” are 74% higher than all other race-gender combined. I guess that explains why the officer I complained about treated me the way he did.
Real data shows that for Oak Park police, accountability is optional, equality is theoretical, and preferential treatment is real. If you think you would be treated fairly by the police because Oak Park touts itself as a progressive community, think again. You could be the next victim of police misconduct that gets shushed by OPPD and CPOC.
Now that I have your attention, if you are not a white female and have never made your voice heard loud and clear about police reform, now is the time to act.
** Raw data was either provided by the village of Oak Park or available online.
Yen-Pu Chen, Oak Park