In a moment that called for clarity, Oak Park’s village board on Monday grasped for a clunky, ill-considered compromise. The upshot, which is still a little vague to us, is that Oak Park’s police department will seek a contract with Flock, a public safety technology company, to install eight license-plate-reading cameras in the village rather than the 20 cameras included in the original proposal.
That original proposal was narrowly defeated — 4 to 3 — in a contentious vote by the board on Monday. That’s when Village President Vicki Scaman, who had made an impassioned argument against the initial proposal for several well-articulated reasons, lobbed out her compromise concept.
Now on Tuesday morning it appears that compromise was narrowly backed by a board majority, but it is not completely clear to us that this resolves the matter or results in a signed contract.
In any event this was a controversial idea brought forward at a totally inopportune moment in what has been a multi-year botch regarding Oak Park village government’s halting, faltering effort to discuss policing and public safety in this village.
Let’s review. The license-plate-reading technology was brought forward as a tool to address legitimate concerns over carjackings in town. But it was brought forward by Police Chief LaDon Reynolds who has been a lame duck for nearly a year and who will “retire” from the force in less than 10 days. There will be an interim chief, likely from within the department. There will be a national search that will take months at least and which will be pre-eminently informed by candidates’ expertise and attitudes toward reforming policing.
That search will be led by a village manager, Kevin Jackson, who has been sitting in his village hall office for two weeks. This Flock flap landed in his lap virtually on the day he arrived.
The discussion of this technology leapt from the police department to the village board agenda in a step the village president concedes was a mistake. For all its words about community engagement and respecting village commissions, this notable proposal bypassed the Community Relations Commission and the Citizen Police Oversight Commission.
That did not stop the CRC from issuing a last-minute, unrequested and scalding recommendation that the Flock contract be killed.
All of this at a moment when BerryDunn, the village board-hired consulting firm, is smack in the middle of its own efforts at community engagement on policing and safety, leading by late summer to its expected wide-ranging report and recommendations on what Oak Park needs to do next.
All of that makes this the worst possible moment to layer on a policing strategy that is being vocally repudiated by many Black and Brown (and white) residents of this town. There are many voices questioning if this technology will be another way that people of color are profiled in this town, and who raise concerns about Flock’s error rate, and who have legitimate worries over how the massive amounts of data collected by Flock will be shared.
This reality does not make it a ripe moment for compromise. Eight versus 20 cameras is not the issue. This proposal should not have surfaced now. At all. It ought to be back-burnered until the new manager and a new police chief, informed by citizens and citizen commissions, with a consultant’s report in hand, can come forward with a considered plan for policing and public safety. Maybe it includes Flock, maybe it doesn’t. Until then this is just more trust-damaging noise.