All people are concerned about their own safety and that of their families and friends. This is a basic human need and is the reason communities fund police and fire services — to protect the safety of their residents. Oak Park is no different: 30% of our overall village budget is dedicated to just these two services.
But as we have seen in a variety of cases over the past several years, there are circumstances in which the traditional response to a crisis makes individuals less safe instead of more. In certain situations and with certain people, the presence of police in a crisis exacerbates that crisis rather than calming it. A key example was the shooting of Quintonio LeGrier in Chicago, which happened when officers were called while LeGrier was undergoing a mental health crisis. Confronted with a person they viewed as a threat, officers reacted as they were trained: to neutralize that threat. In so doing, they killed LeGrier and his neighbor, Bettie Jones.
A situation like this is both tragic and avoidable. If there are alternatives to police responding in a crisis, people will use them. That is why I want to thank the Oak Park Village Board for creating a non-police crisis response team for the village. Such a team will respond to situations in which people need support for mental health emergencies and other crises. This will allow community members to access support for crises without calling on police. Given that Black community members and other residents of color may be understandably hesitant to call police, the availability of a non-police crisis response team may increase the degree to which village residents access the support they need.
How we respond in a crisis says a lot about our community. A report by Vera Institute of Justice states, “Creating alternatives to police responses will connect people in the community with the services they need, reduce arrest rates and the potential for violent police encounters, and promote the health and safety of community members.” I believe that the vast majority of Oak Park’s residents share these goals. I am proud that our village board set us on a path toward those goals and said something positive about our community in the process.