Let's talk policing

Opinion: Editorials

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Oak Park has a very good police department. We have reason to be proud of its officers and the work they do. Over three decades, the department has been innovative, rightly race conscious, and committed to the evolving definition of community policing.

In a village located at the edge of Chicago's West Side, good neighborhoods too often stung by crime, it is only right that the village board would place public safety near the top of its list of priorities.

Though levels of crime in Oak Park are at historic lows — crime has been consistently dropping in the village for decades — incidents such as a spike in carjackings create a perception that crime is rising. The data says we're safe, but the chatter on social media and at the grocery says, "Be wary."

And so, to address those perceptions and to battle the real instances of crime, Oak Park leaders have, since the 1970s, invested more in policing than might be typical of a community of this size and demographic. The investment in policing is one of the main reasons taxes run high in Oak Park and also why demand for the community has run high as well.

Last week, in a village board session aimed at setting goals and protocols for this still new board, Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla raised another set of perceptions of our police department. She said the department's reputation includes active racial profiling of people of color. She said this was of greater concern than public safety and called for a "radical transformation" of policing in Oak Park.

Her now regular foil on the board, Trustee Dan Moroney, took umbrage on behalf of the police department, lauded them for their efforts and said that Walker-Peddakotla had no data to back up her claims and accused her of defaming the department. He allowed that the department could benefit from "incremental improvements."

Somewhere between "radical transformation" and "incremental improvements" we have an important conversation in front of us. A conversation we should begin with intention, purpose and optimism.

As a village, as a nation, we would do well to leave consciously behind the simple-minded notion that to question police is to denigrate all that they do well. It's insulting to professional law enforcement to suggest they can't do better, can't be held accountable. And it is unacceptable to civilians, especially people of color, who have every reason to be suspicious of policing tactics, to imply that their realities are mere perceptions or overreactions.

Oak Park is, as it often is, in a remarkable place to lead. Our police department is strong, racially diverse by design, and adaptable. Having listened to its leaders over decades, it is clear they are conscious of complex issues of race in policing. Are there blind spots? Do they need more and better oversight? Is the data on traffic stops and officer encounters with civilians adequately gathered and assessed, including by those outside the department?

Let's find out. Let's welcome an organized, purposeful conversation. Let's be grateful for questions and doubts raised. Let's be grateful we start from a good place.

Reader Comments

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Kelly Bacon Desmarais  

Posted: October 7th, 2019 6:12 PM

"Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla raised another set of perceptions of our police department. She said the department's reputation includes active racial profiling of people of color. She said this was of greater concern than public safety and called for a "radical transformation" of policing in Oak Park." What exactly does she mean when she says, "this is of greater concern than public safety"?

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 7th, 2019 10:22 AM

Ms. Long, I don't believe anyone is attempting to discount one's experience. Rather, most of us who have experiences like your own, are bewildered when Arti says "the department's reputation includes active racial profiling of people of color". That along with her other statements regarding the police imply we have an extremely racist police department. So all I ask is to please present some semblance of evidence before being so accusatory.

Jasper Long from Oak Park  

Posted: October 7th, 2019 8:54 AM

I mentioned in another post that I think OP Police has done a wonderful job in the many times I've had contact with them. In my 23 years of living in OP have never had issue with them but my singular experience is not everyone' reality. It's unfair to try to discount someone's experience just because you have NEVER heard about it or experience it.

Bob Stokes  

Posted: October 3rd, 2019 10:04 AM

These sort of opinion pieces would be much better informed if they came from a place of even basic knowledge of how policing is done in OP and our bordering communities. There is no evidence here that this writer has ever gone on a ride along, or interviewed police and command staff to see what their operational challenges are in keeping people safe from those who would rob, rape or assault us. If you did that work, you may come to the same conclusions as you do here, that the recent progressive response to equity challenges in public safety will not mean more victims of violent crime (or that process trumps outcomes) -- but considering higher crime would actually be a theoretically reasonable outcome of your progressive advocacy -- why not do a bit more work figuring out the nature of the problem before you put people at risk. If this is the most expensive and important municipal service offered in places where you produce journalism, why not invest more shoe leather in getting to know the actual equity-safety trade offs beyond going to meetings or talking to advocates.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 3rd, 2019 9:06 AM

It's simply incorrect to say that "the data says we're safe." It says no such thing, only that the rate of crime is dropping a bit. Data cannot make conclusions, only people interpreting the data. And in truth, the lower risk of crime people in Oak Park face is due to a strong police presence. That's not "safety." That's a dangerous environment being controlled through 24-7 policing.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 2nd, 2019 11:36 PM

"She said the department's reputation includes active racial profiling of people of color. She said this was of greater concern than public safety and called for a "radical transformation" of policing in Oak Park." Typical leftist activist talk. Feelings always trump facts. Weird, I have been living in Oak Park for the past 24 years and have NEVER once heard a peep about OP police racially profiling. Anthony Clark also claims to have videos of OP police profiling and harassing youth. Wonder why all this "evidence" is kept in the dark.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 2nd, 2019 11:30 PM

True crime as a broad category may be at historic lows. But that quite frankly is not what most people are concerned about. Most, I venture to guess, are concerned with violent crime (robbery, rape, murder and assault). And as near as I can tell from FBI statistics these crimes as a group are not at historic lows in Oak Park. If anything they are holding steady over the past five years. One web site in particular - http://www.city -data.com/crime/crime-Oak-Park-Illinois.html - indeed adds to the perception that violent crime in Oak Park is in fact increasing and not decreasing So I would say when it comes to violent crime, perception indeed may be reality.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 2nd, 2019 10:09 PM

Questioning the police is fine. Accusing them with no data is simple minded. But on a positive, it is great to hear that car jacking is no big deal, because WJ says so.

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