As part of its goal to improve public safety, the Oak Park Village Board has chosen BerryDunn over Hillard Heintze to serve as the firm that will facilitate an independent assessment of the Oak Park Police Department. Despite early support for Hillard Heintze, BerryDunn became the obvious frontrunner and was awarded the contract during the board’s Aug. 30 meeting.
While the board found many similarities in the offerings of both firms, many trustees found the additional information provided by BerryDunn regarding community engagement strategies and policing alternatives more compelling than Hillard Heintze.
“I don’t see a huge difference between the two. I go back to the original interview where I favored BerryDunn, and so that’s where I remain at this point,” said Trustee Susan Buchanan.
Trustee Jim Taglia had a complete change of heart since the board last discussed the two firms on Aug. 2.
“I ended the last meeting in support of Hillard Heintze, but upon reviewing their most recent response, as well as the most recent response from BerryDunn,” Taglia said, “I think I’m going to change over to BerryDunn as the firm I would support in terms of winning the RFP.”
He told the board that the success of this initiative really hinges on engagement with the community.
“I feel more comfortable and there’s a higher chance of success using a firm that’s going to engage as robustly as possible with residents and get their input,” he explained.
Like Taglia, Trustee Ravi Parakkat was formerly on the Hillard Heintze bandwagon, but also like Taglia, he switched his support to BerryDunn because he felt the firm’s approach is more practical.
Trustee Lucia Robinson found BerryDunn and Hillard Heintz “in many ways very comparable.” What gave the firm an edge over the latter was BerryDunn’s “Community Co-Production Policing” model, which attempts to unify police agencies with the public through collaboration to develop shared responsibilities, better policies, and public safety priorities.
The model, according to BerryDunn, expands upon traditional community-oriented policing through the inclusion of a greater level of community participation and involvement in key policing strategies that affect the community.
While BerryDunn was the clear favorite for those three village board members, Trustee Chibuike Enyia found both firms unimpressive.
“I don’t think right now I’m leaning toward either,” said Enyia, who suggested the Citizen Policing Oversight Committee (CPOC) should have the opportunity weigh in on the decision and give a recommendation to the board.
“I think we need to look a little bit harder and make sure we’re giving all of our residents the justice of finding a true change for this,” said Enyia.
Hearing lukewarm responses to firms, he told the board, did not inspire his confidence in moving forward.
Village President Vicki Scaman reminded Enyia that CPOC’s role is to review allegations made against members of the police department, but that CPOC would be a part of the process of giving input and reviewing the scope of services laid out in the contract once the board chooses a firm.
Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla told the board she remained unsupportive of hiring a police consulting firm to steer the village of Oak Park in carrying out reforms. She has been unfaltering in that view since the suggestion was first offered to the previous village board during its June 22 meeting last year.
“It is so sad to me that we are about to spend $159,000, which is what I think BerryDunn originally proposed in the RFP, on hiring ex-police officers to tell us how to reimagine community safety,” said Walker-Peddakotla.
The cost of services provided in BerryDunn’s proposal amounted to $159,250, while Hillard Heintze’s cost of services, as detailed in their proposal, totaled $115,599.60.
Walker-Peddakotla felt both firms’ proposals “were exactly the same,” offering a “newfangled model of community policing,” which she called “laughable.”
“Community policing is not a new model and their version is like community policing 5.0,” she said, before launching into a brief history of the origins of community policing to the board.
Neither BerryDunn’s “Community Co-Production Policing” model nor, as she called it, “Hillard Heintze’s community-whatever model” had the capabilities to reform the law enforcement system as neither address the actual problem. A lack of community control over policing, however, she does not see as the issue.
“The problem is the fact that the police system itself is built on white supremacy and racism,” she said. “You can’t community-police your way out of that.”
Walker-Peddakotla expressed her appreciation for Enyia’s desire to see CPOC involved in choosing a firm.
The meeting’s atmosphere turned testy when Scaman tried to interject that CPOC will have a presence in the process once after the village board selects a firm, as the village president and Walker-Peddakotla tried to speak over each other.
“I’m just so kind of appalled that I just got interrupted; I feel like I’m on the last board,” said Walker-Peddakotla.
Scaman apologized to Walker-Peddakotla before moving back to the matter at hand, stating that she had “every faith” the village board would push either firm to respond to the needs of the community.
With Scaman, Taglia, Robinson and Parakkat’s affirmative votes outnumbering the nay votes cast by Walker-Peddakotla and Enyia, BerryDunn was awarded the contract over Hillard Heintze.