Oak Park trustees clash over public safety, racial profiling

Trustees debate whether to transform police department or praise it

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

Oak Park trustees Arti Walker-Peddakotla and Dan Moroney clashed over racial profiling within the Oak Park Police Department during a special meeting held Sept. 23 to discuss board goals and protocol. 

While discussing public safety within the context of village board goals, Walker-Peddakotla, elected last April, announced she didn't see a necessity in making public safety a goal.

"I know I'm going to get voted down on this, so I'm not expecting anything, but I don't agree that this should be a board goal, because I just don't think we have a public safety problem," Walker-Peddakotla said. "I think we have a racial-profiling problem in our police department that we need to focus on."

She went on to say she is all for abolishing systems within the Oak Park Police Department that promote racial profiling and encourage racial bias, and she called for a "radical transformation."

Trustee Simone Boutet argued that models to promote racially equitable policing were detailed within the recommendations given by the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, a group created by former President Barack Obama in 2014 in response to the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Walker-Peddakotla said the task force did not sufficiently address racial inequities in policing and that by making public safety a board goal, village officials would give community members the impression that they are unsafe — a perception that could foster a fear of diversity among residents. Walker-Peddakotla also called for the board to prioritize reforming the Police Oversight Commission.

Moroney took issue with what he described as Walker-Peddakotla's unsubstantiated claim that racial profiling was a problem within the police department.

"I just find it really important, if you're going to make blanket statements, you need to have the data to back it up," he said, adding that it's "extraordinarily damning" to suggest racial profiling occurred within the police department. 

"Without the actual data to back that up, it's a hell of an accusation to our police department," he said.  

"I think it's important to be very careful with our words, because I believe we have a heck of a police department," Moroney said. "They deserve our praise rather than a blanket statement that damns the whole department." 

The trustee also said he is not for the radical transformation of the police department that Walker-Peddakotla proposed; instead, Moroney suggested that incremental improvements be made.

"I don't believe our police department is a system of oppression," Moroney said. 

"While I don't have quantitative data, I have qualitative data from kids who have said that they are tired of getting stopped for riding a bike," Walker-Peddakotla said, referencing a series of public meetings held over the summer where many kids said they were angry about being stopped by police. 

"That cannot be ignored," she said. "What our kids are saying cannot be ignored." 

Moroney said he agreed with her in that regard, but that the need for a public safety goal is justified and necessary, citing "dozens" of carjackings per year.

"Mothers with children in the back of the car with a gun to their head, that's scary," Moroney said. "I think for us to bury our heads in the sand and say that public safety is not an important issue — we're fooling ourselves and I will not give the community that message." 

"I do want to say when someone feels discriminated against or profiled against or not treated fairly, you can't deny that," said Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb. "There is something we can do for everyone to make them feel like they belong in Oak Park."

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Reader Comments

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Jasper Long  

Posted: September 26th, 2019 11:52 PM

Definitely think the Oak Park Police do a great job. I've had multiple interactions with them through my years of living and working in Oak Park and have found them to be really great. I've never had an issue with profiling but I'm not sure I'm totally against it either. Anyway that is my experience, I can't speak for others and don't want to discount/minimize their experiences. There is always room for improvement.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: September 26th, 2019 5:29 PM

Mr. Dwyer: Thank you for asking that question.

Steve Miller  

Posted: September 26th, 2019 3:27 PM

Why would we want to start anywhere but by knowing the facts of racial profiling by the Oak Park Police? Surely the Village has some data or history on this. Absent that information, it is equally irresponsible to to assume there is a pervasive problem as it is to assume there isn't.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 25th, 2019 10:47 AM

I suggest you start the process, Brian, since you have such strong opinions on this. Tell us, just what IS the purpose(s) of the police department, if it's not to protect life and property.

Mikhail Ivanov  

Posted: September 25th, 2019 10:02 AM

So, despite dozens of documented carjackings across Oak Park in the last 18-24 months, because a Trustee spoke to some kids on bikes and she felt that they didn't feel completely comfortable, we should take action on these "feelings"? Our police department is outstanding -- is there a record of discrimination and intimidation that we should be aware of, or are there more "feelings" and talking points from the national press? Mr. Moroney, thank you for keeping the focus on important issues that matter to the taxpayers of Oak Park.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: September 24th, 2019 10:39 PM

Walker-Peddakotla doesn't have data, but feels she can commit defamation of the entire police force based on some made up story. The unprofessionalism is stunning.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 24th, 2019 8:08 PM

Yes, the police are not responsible for the protection of yourself or your property. You the private citizen are the sole person responsible for the protection or yourself or property. To solve puzzle problem, the question the police say they are responsible for the protection of the citizen. The trustee is asking the board to look at the issue of public safety being the domain of the police. I am asking the board and trustee state the primary purpose of the police.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: September 24th, 2019 7:10 PM

You're a puzzle, Brian. Aug. 23 you write that, " the public police are not responsible for the protection of yourself or property. You the private citizen are the sole person responsible for the protection or yourself or property." Now you're challenging someone who appears to agree with you?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 24th, 2019 5:45 PM

So, if public safety is not the primary goal of the police department, what would the primary goal of a police department be. Parking citations? Registering bicycles? .Social work while wearing firearms?

Jim Major  

Posted: September 24th, 2019 4:52 PM

I disagree completely with Trustee Walker-Peddakotla on this issue . The good citizens of Oak Park are extremely fortunate to have such an excellent police department. That they do such a fine job protecting and serving while working out of an absolute embarrassment of a police station is quite remarkable . Thanks for your support Trustee Moroney . This citizen greatly appreciates it.

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