Even as it awaits the overdue and anticipated third party assessment of policing in Oak Park, the village has modestly expanded the role of its Citizen Police Oversight Commission. The commission primarily is charged with reviewing citizen complaints related to encounters with officers.

That the commission currently is allowed to only review those complaints after they have been investigated internally is problematic. But progress was made last year when, at the direction of Village President Vicki Scaman, the committee was given access to dashcam videos tied to those complaints.

As it reviewed 13 such complaints from November 2021 to June 2022 the committee discovered that in nine of the cases officers failed to activate the audio recording feature of the dashcams. In its biannual report to the village board, the commission expressed its concern that there was no audio on most complaints. And it surmised that the lack of audio was likely common within the department. It asked that the village board be informed of the percentage of cases overall where there is video — a process that occurs automatically whenever police lights are turned on in a squad car — but no audio.

That’s a number Wednesday Journal would also like to report. And we await a response to our Freedom of Information request on that topic.

And while we have received the current police policy on the use of dashcams — video and audio — we still want to know what changes were made to that nine-year-old policy when it was amended by former chief LaDon Reynolds a year ago and amended again two weeks ago by Interim Chief Shatonya Johnson on Aug. 19 of this year.

While the oversight commission recommended to the village board that all instances where audio was not activated over the past six months result in direct conversations with each officer, spokespersons for the village were awfully soft in attributing the failure to activate audio as just a bad habit.

We’re dubious. Understanding how the policy has evolved would offer clarity.

Just Monday night the village board approved a plan to finally bring bodycams to Oak Park. We’re now operating under a state-imposed deadline of January 2024 for implementation.

When the BerryDunn report on policing finally drops, perhaps this month, we look for ways to further expand citizen oversight of this department. That audio recordings have seemingly been optional is a good reason for greater citizen engagement.

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