Shatonya Johnson, Oak Park police chief (Village of Oak Park)

Oak Park Police Chief Shatonya Johnson committed to police department accountability in her annual public safety report, presented during the board’s March 13 meeting. She also asked that the village and the public continue to hold police accountable.

“My philosophy on policing is to build officers up, to hold them accountable, and to make sure we continue the rich tradition that started long before I even started, which was built on community policing,” Johnson said.

The public safety report was far more comprehensive and detailed than past public safety reports, lasting roughly two hours and covering everything from the department being short-staffed by 22 officers to implementing police consultant recommendations and using police body cameras, which the department will have next month. The department will likewise have in-car cameras by the end of 2023. 

The report contained a bevy of statistics, including the police department’s removal of 78 firearms from the community and an increase in crime of 11% from 2021 to 2022, the driving factor being motor vehicle thefts. TikTok videos showing how easy it is to steal certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles have caused a major upsurge in thefts in Oak Park, mirroring the national trend. Stealing these vehicles is often about the thrill.

“A person we arrested indicated, ‘Hey, we just wanted to see if it worked,’” Johnson said.

To address the issue, the department gave out 104 steering wheel locks to owners in possession of the targeted vehicles. The police will be hosting another giveaway as Kia recently gave the department an additional 104 steering wheel locks.

Oak Park suffered three homicides last year, one more than Oak Park typically sees, according to Johnson. Police apprehended two individuals in the June 22 killing of Jailyn Logan-Bledsoe at the BP gas station, 100 Chicago Ave. They are currently awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges. The other two homicides are still under investigation, occurring July 23 at 100 Lake St. and Dec. 27 at 14 Chicago Ave., respectively. The victims of those incidents did not live in Oak Park and were targeted.

“When you have targeted incidents, it’s a little bit harder to be pro-active,” said Johnson. “We’re utilizing all of our resources and partnerships to actively bring these individuals to justice, to provide closure to the family, and again to keep our streets in Oak Park safe.”

Possibly the department’s most popular member, wellness support dog Pawfficer Howie, also received an honorable mention for his therapy services, including comforting kids at Oak Park vaccination clinics and consoling Highland Park police officers after the July 4th parade shooting.

Johnson shared several of the department’s “success stories” from the previous year, which included the ban on 24-hour gas stations and convenience stores as well as the intergovernmental safety agreement between the village and school districts 97 and 200, the latter, she said, being the one she was “most proud about.”

“The youth of Oak Park is near and dear to my heart,” she said. 

The IGA does not restore the school resource officers. Johnson called the IGA a “collaborative effort” to ensure the police department maintains safety in schools without causing harm to students. 

Police are also working to gain the trust of the community’s children and teenagers. To do so, the department reinstated its Junior Citizen Police Academy last July. Oak Park’s community policing unit partnered with the River Forest Police Department for the week-long program, where children, age 10-15, were taught about different aspects of police work. 

“It was a success,” said Johnson. “I look forward to doing it this year.”

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