I attended a recent public forum conducted by BerryDunn, a consulting firm hired by the village of Oak Park to review its police department.
While only about 10 citizens participated, the comments expressed represented a variety of perspectives. A BerryDunn consultant listened carefully to the comments and was respectful to all.
Those in attendance included: a parent whose teenage daughter attends OPRF High School; another OPRF parent who works at Oak Park Township; other citizens are involved in village committees, including the police and fire commission; a former Oak Park police officer; and myself, an Oak Park native who recently moved back to the village after many years living in Chicago.
Our experiences and interactions with the police department ran the gamut. Years ago, my family had a very positive experience when Oak Park police assisted us with a relative suffering a mental health crisis. It was clear the officers had de-escalation training. Yet a parent of an OPRF teen described the negative experience both she and her daughter had with police.
Through discussion, it became clear that, on some occasions, not enough police officers are sent to respond to certain incidents. Conversely, the question arose: Does having an officer respond to a mental health issue run the risk of escalating the situation?
I was among several individuals who praised the resident beat officer program. It enables residents — or those working in business districts — to become familiar with the beat officer as they become familiar with the issues their assigned neighborhood is facing. But not everyone is aware there is a beat officer who is assigned to their neighborhood. Increased communication is necessary between the village and residents. It was noted that the village’s newsletter is now quarterly; it had been a monthly publication but was a casualty of budget cuts.
Additionally, there are email lists that residents can sign up for to learn when their resident beat officer will host monthly updates on activities within certain neighborhoods.
Finally, an Oak Park Township employee (and parent) who attended noted that in years past, there has been substantial coordination between various local governmental entities. I believe she spoke in reference to collaboration between township youth leadership and the village. There can never be enough collaboration and sharing of information among government units; breaking down siloes is an ongoing effort.
I look forward to reading BerryDunn’s report when it comes out. If anything, attending this recent forum served as a reminder that it’s important to show up to meetings, even on a cold and rainy night.
Former community journalist
Family has lived in Oak Park since 1964