At the Tuesday, Jan. 18, village board meeting, the Police Chief LaDon Reynolds provided an update on the village’s response to Southwest Oak Park residents’ concerns about an increase in violence in their neighborhood. I believe our residents, and understand their fear about an increase in violence in their neighborhood. But I also believe the village must reimagine how we think about and respond to these acts of violence. 

At Tuesday’s board meeting, there were many statements made by Chief Reynolds that were deeply concerning to me. He discussed, as one of the measures taken, the purchase of a new camera system touting it as a tool that “helps solve crime.” Additionally, the chief described a new policy, implemented within the last six months, where residents can call and report the license plates of drivers they deem to be driving recklessly. The police will send a letter to these drivers notifying them that they are being “observed.” The board has neither reviewed, received prior notice about, nor had the opportunity to debate and vote on the implementation of these new policies or technologies. The camera system purchase is apparently below the monetary threshold required to trigger a board review. 

Residents should think very critically about the use of carceral technology deployed to “help solve crime.” The aforementioned technology, Flock Safety, is an automated license plate reader (ALPR) that uses machine learning to categorize vehicles and, indirectly, drivers, thereby “enhancing” Flock’s database and making it more searchable. ALPRs are essentially neighborhood watch devices designed to track the movement of anyone coming into and leaving Oak Park. This carceral surveillance technology will invariably impact people who are already disproportionately targeted by Oak Park police. 

This village board has yet to address the serious issues that have been raised by ROYAL and Freedom to Thrive Oak Park organizers. FOIA data shows that Black youth are disproportionately targeted in field stops by Oak Park police. Publicly available Illinois traffic-stop data shows that Black drivers are also disproportionately targeted by Oak Park police. The use of Flock’s ALPRs will only exacerbate this problem. Additionally, reports have shown that local ALPR data from other municipalities has been shared with Customs and Border Patrol and ICE. So not only is the initial surveillance an issue, but the resulting database targets our undocumented neighbors as well.

As an abolitionist, while I understand our resident’s fears, I cannot agree to the use of carceral technology that doesn’t actually “solve crime,” but instead places Black and Brown people at greater risk of racial profiling by their neighbors and the police. I also disagree with the new policy of reporting license plates and receiving notice. 

As I stated in Monday’s board meeting, I believe we should explore the use of non-police interventions like the creation of a multi-city violence intervention or crime interruption program that would help prevent violence before it happens. 

Additionally, we need to look at the root causes of violence, many of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. How can we help people get what they need to thrive? More of our American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars should be distributed to help people stay in their homes, address food insecurity, and create a mental health response team to support people in times of crises. Together we can reimagine our government’s response to violence. We just have to muster the empathy and courage to do it. 

Arti Walker-Peddakotla is an Oak Park village trustee and organizer of Freedom to Thrive Oak Park.

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