I have watched with interest the “Defund the Police” and the replace-police-officers-with-mental-health-professionals movement clamoring here in the village. I find this point of view out of place in a wealthy village directly adjacent to a crime-ridden neighborhood full of chop shops, pawn shops that buy stolen property, open-air drug markets, and streets with frequent shootings and robberies.
I live a half-block east of Columbus Park and during years living here have suffered three home invasions, one blocked home invasion which led to damage to my house, theft of all of my bicycles, hand tools, lawn mower, and said car from my garage.
Honestly, what keeps me here in Oak Park is our excellent police force, which I believe is the reason why crime is not worse in Oak Park.
Leave your garage door open and the police will call you. Call 911 by mistake and a police officer will come check on you. Have your home security alarm sound and in 1-3 minutes a police officer will come. Make a stupid driving mistake in the view of a police officer and you will get pulled over and in most cases get educated on driver safety. Have a fender-bender and a police officer will come to take a report and will try to find the lowest difficulty response for both drivers.
Oak Park police officers are maintainers of order, crime preventers or stoppers, arbitrators, violence and crisis interveners, first-aid providers till the paramedics arrive, and far more. We need a fully-staffed 126 sworn personnel force under an equitable and fair union contract to provide the citizens of Oak Park with the services that we have come to expect and deserve.
We also need a police force that treats anyone on the streets of Oak Park with fairness, equitability, respect and justice. We need police officers who know when to call in a clinical social worker, a crisis-intervener or other mental health professional when the issue involves drugs, alcohol and mental health. We need police officers who do not pre-judge persons who are Black, Brown, non-English speaking, Indigenous persons, Latino or other racial, ethnic or religious minority.
I know a bit about what I speak. I was the president of our neighborhood organization, which worked with our beat cop on quality-of-life and safety issues. I worked as a mental -health substance abuse licensed clinical emergency room social worker in the military, VA, and tertiary level trauma emergency room with frequent interactions with police, DCFS, community trauma and police social workers, rape victim advocates and various EMS personnel. As a member of the Community Relations Commission, I heard minority citizen complaints about Oak Park policing.
Simply put, we could not survive without adequate policing. But also simply put, we must assure as a community that policing is proportional, fair, equitable, and just for all persons who live and transit through Oak Park. We must ensure that community emergency mental-health professionals are called in when appropriate and necessary, and that they be trained to function as part of a community policing team with the rights privileges and respect they deserve.
I saw in-person the respect and effectiveness of the Proviso Mental Health/police teams when I worked in the ER of a major teaching hospital in Proviso Township, and I am told that Thrive Center fills this role in Oak Park Township.
We need our police but we need them to practice a form of policing consistent with community values and the reality of our multi-racial, multi-sexual identity, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-economic status, multi-political philosophy, birth to 100 community.
Frank Redin Vozak is a longtime resident of Oak Park.