The Citizen Police Oversight Committee is one of the village of Oak Park’s most talked about but perhaps least understood commissions. The 7-member group, made up of volunteers, meets regularly throughout the year to evaluate conduct complaints lodged against members of the Oak Park Police Department. To give Oak Park residents a more complete knowledge of just what that entails, Wednesday Journal sat down with CPOC Chair Donovan Pepper, who elaborated on the scope of the committee’s authority.

1. CPOC does not investigate the complaints

When grievances against police are filed, an investigation into the incident is launched. That investigation is handled within the police department carried out by four or five sworn officers, who also review the complaint. CPOC plays no part at all in the investigation process.

2. CPOC does not decide disciplinary measures

Once the investigation is completed, the police chief or a police commander makes a recommendation to CPOC regarding the officer involved in the complaint. The recommendation could involve further training for the officer or even disciplinary measures. That information is then provided to CPOC, which determines whether it agrees with the recommendation or if the committee believes further investigation is necessary.

CPOC does not have a say in what disciplinary measures, if any, are taken against the officer. A formal labor process must be followed before disciplining an officer.

“These are union-covered employees,” said Pepper of police officers. “There is a process that must be followed for discipline under their union contract.”

Members do have the ability to share thoughts on the matter with the department’s top brass, however.

“We do have a lot of opportunity to speak with leadership of the department, including the chief, to discuss, what our thoughts are about the recommendation that’s been made, and why they’re made,” said Pepper.

3. The public cannot access the complaints reviewed by CPOC

While CPOC meetings are public and can be attended by any member of the public, the complaints themselves are not available for public perusal. CPOC reviews the complaints in executive session to protect the privacy of the individuals involved in each complaint.

“They’re complaints regarding personnel,” Pepper explained. “That’s always been private.”

Neither executive session minutes nor records related to a public body’s adjudication of employee grievances or employee disciplinary cases are subject to the Freedom of Information Act under Illinois law.

However, the FOIA exemption does not extend to final outcome of cases in which disciplinary action has been imposed.

4. The authority of CPOC may be broadened

The power of CPOC is outlined in the ordinance under which it was first

created. However, there has been a push to amend the ordinance to grant the commission greater authority. Currently, the commission is looking into the possibility of widening its purview. 

“The commission is currently reviewing what is possible,” said Pepper. “We are reviewing options to change the methodology or how we review cases.”

At this moment, no such amendment to the ordinance has been drafted, but CPOC has recently been granted more access into complaint investigations than it had previously. CPOC can now review some of the audio and footage related to investigations.

5. The Oak Park Police Department receives infrequent complaints

CPOC reviewed only 10 complaints against police officers between October 2020 and April 2021, which was three fewer than in the previous year. Of the 10 complaints made, only three were found substantiated.

Pepper chalks up the relatively low complaint numbers to the officer training efforts deployed by former Oak Park police chief and current U.S. Marshal LaDon Reynolds.

“When you look at the size of our town and the size of our police force and you look at the number of complaints – I think it’s relatively small,” he said. “That’s a testament to the work of the department in training its men and women in the force.”

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