Like many, possibly most, communities, Oak Park is on the knife’s edge when it comes to perceptions, realities and tensions regarding how we view public safety while also working to reshape how we police this town.

The challenge is on display this week as village government released the 2022 community survey it conducts regularly through a national organization. There are many aspects of the survey that are affirming. Respondents plan to stay in Oak Park over the long haul, are ready to recommend the village to friends and family. The park district gets very high marks. The schools do well.

But when it comes to perceptions of public safety there is notable slippage from two years ago. Those surveyed said they feel safe in Oak Park’s downtown and in their own neighborhoods during the day. But the percentage of those who feel safe from violent crime dropped by 15% in that time period. That’s a notable change.

And since 96% of those who took the survey said public safety is an essential government service, the decline has to be taken seriously.

What does that look like in a moment when the village is simultaneously, and correctly, looking at alternatives to traditional policing strategies? The Alternative Response Taskforce, appointed by Village Manager Kevin Jackson, continues its work and hosted a public engagement session this week to consider the intersection of mental health and policing and what Oak Park’s first response to such calls should be.

This is good and essential work. 

But it will take nimble work by police department leadership, village trustees and the public to be thoughtful and innovative in understanding that growing worry about crime and rethinking policing can be companion pieces not in opposition. Two things can be true at once. 

Join the discussion on social media!