Police Chief LaDon Reynolds proposed fully staffing the community policing unit during an Oct. 26 village board review of the village's recommended 2021 budget.
Reynolds's realignment includes two current officers being reassigned as youth officers and appointing a designated commander post to oversee community policing.
The budget proposal for the police department reflects a year-over-year spending increase from $25.5 million to $26.3 million. Despite other spending cuts included, continuing hikes in police pensions make up the bulk of the increase.
The budget discussion though quickly shifted to a debate led by Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla over her concerns of alleged racial profiling by Oak Park police and her frustration over a lack of public discussion about current contract negotiations with the union representing police officers.
Walker-Peddakotla called the proposed police department budget a "shame" after questioning the police chief on racial profiling.
Reynolds said the mission of the community policing unit is citizen engagement; the unit includes the popular resident beat officer (RBO) program.
"This program increases the scope of interaction between police and the public, correct?" Walker-Peddakotla asked the chief.
The chief confirmed.
"What does that mean for people in our village, especially young Black males who we know are already profiled?" Walker-Peddakotla asked.
Trustee Simone Boutet tried to intervene, saying to Walker-Peddakotla, "That is not a question."
Walker-Peddakotla, however, was undeterred.
"Simone, how about you stop interrupting me and let me ask my questions," Walker-Peddakotla said. "I'm asking my questions to the chief and not to you."
Walker-Peddakotla then rephrased her question to Reynolds, citing information on police field stops gathered through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
"We know through FOIA data and data that you haven't disputed in emails; we know that there is racial profiling of young Black males in the village," she said. "If we are increasing the scope of interactions with police and the public, I want to know what is the impact of that on people that are already subject to potential racial profiling."
Walker-Peddakotla said the village was setting up a whole new department to increase communication between sworn police officers and civilians. However, the community policing unit is an established unit that has been in operation for over 25 years but hasn't been fully staffed for some time, said Reynolds.
Reynolds disputed Walker-Peddakotla's racial profiling claims, saying he disagreed.
"I do not agree that there is racial profiling in Oak Park. I do agree that African Americans are stopped for field interrogations more so than others," Reynolds said. Her statements on racial profiling, Reynolds said, made "some assumptions that aren't founded in evidence."
As for the impact of a fully staffed community policing unit, Reynolds believed that was a discussion to be had once the request for proposal (RFP) process to hire a third-party consultant to audit the police department was completed.
"If you're saying that African Americans are stopped more in field stops, how is that not racial profiling?" Walker-Peddakotla continued.
Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb tried to intervene, telling Walker-Peddakotla, "The chief is not under investigation."
Abu-Taleb told Walker-Peddakotla to make her statements to the police chief, so the board could continue with the budget discussion.
"The statement I want to make to the police chief is this budget is a shame," she said. "It's a shameful budget."
She said it was "shameful" that the board was even considering a budget that did not significantly reduce the number of police officers to bring it in line with FBI averages.
The recommended 2021 budget calls for 147 sworn officers, compared to 151 in the 2020 budget – total reduction of four sworn officers.
"Furthermore, we are going through this without even having talked about in significant detail the police union contract," said Walker-Peddakotla.
The patrol officer contract expires at the end of 2020; the village began negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union this past September.
Walker-Peddakotla said she asked questions about the contract negotiations two months ago and hadn't received any information. "We should not be talking about this police department budget without figuring out how we can improve in the police union contract the transparency and the accountability of the current police department," she stated.
Abu-Taleb took issue with Walker-Peddakotla's use of the word "we."
"I'm sure when you say 'we,' you mean 'you,'" the mayor said. "You're not representing my views."
Walker-Peddakotla said the police contract needed to be discussed and her questions, which she called "vital to ensuring accountability," answered prior to any police budget conversations taking place.
"In a year where we have had a massive civil uprising about the fact that the police absolutely are racial profiling certain individuals, nation-wide and in our community, we are approving a method that actually increases the scope of interaction between the police and civilians," said Walker-Peddakotla. "It's not something that I agree with at all."
Walker-Peddakotla said the board has "done nothing to address the over 400 emails" they have received calling for a reduction of the policing budget.
Trustee Dan Moroney took Walker-Peddakotla's use of the word 'shame' and flipped it, saying, "It is a shame. I think it's a shame, Arti, that you can't work with our police chief." He continued telling Walker-Peddakotla that it was a shame she couldn't acknowledge the crime in Oak Park, the rate of which he said was up 10 percent since 2016. "Those crimes have victims," he said. "It's a shame that you disparage residents who are concerned about crime."
Moroney concluded by telling Walker-Peddakotla, to get off her "soapbox and stop moralizing" and that her "act is getting old and people are seeing it."
This story has been updated to clarify certain details related to the community policing unit.
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