The First Ward Report – Police reform or just more political pandering?

From the 1966 Chicago race riots to Rodney King to Ferguson, Missouri, to George Floyd, in light of what I’ve seen during my fascinating lifetime, the fact that we, as a society, are finally taking the need for widespread police reform seriously, is particularly encouraging.

From the aforementioned circumstances right down to minorities being vastly overrepresented in predominantly white suburban municipality traffic court calls, it’s truly time to see some sort of cultural shift.

Corey Dixon 3

But those required reforms should never consist of the knee-jerk variety which inevitably create more problems than they solve. They should be reasonable, well-considered, and these new stipulations should actually serve the people they purport to serve, not the politicians promoting them.

As I’m rather fond of saying, “Do you want the change you seek, or do you just want to feel good about yourself for a while?” Given how the political pendulum always swings the other way, venturing too far in either direction only creates further chaos.

Having tackled this tough topic for years, I’m convinced that community policing is the only law enforcement dynamic that really works, and when I think of the departments that have managed to pull that kind of thing off, Elgin is always one of the first that comes to mind.

But given the timbre of these post George Floyd homicide times, it wasn’t too terribly surprising when that ‘City in the Suburbs’ city council dove directly into the deep end in the police reform regard.

It’s not that that there isn’t room for improvement. Were I an EPD officer – a terrifying thought if there ever was one – I would avoid social media like the plague – and that embargo would extend to my children. My approach to known gang members would also be quite different than the method that’s currently being applied, too.

So, let’s examine those impending reforms and the motives of the council members primarily promoting them – Corey Dixon and Tish Powell:

  1. Adding two new citizen positions to the Police and Fire Commission, one filled by a minority and the other by a woman.
  2. A residency requirement for all officers and not just the command staff.
  3. Future internal police investigation will be handled by an independent board or agency that do not include former law enforcement officers.

The wording Dixon used may be fraught with peril, but I have absolutely no problem with reform number one. There are currently three civilians on that board, and as long as they have more than a passing knowledge of law enforcement practices, adding two more couldn’t possibly hurt.

powell

Tish Powell

But when you consider that white folks make up just 41 percent of the Elgin population, I’d be careful about throwing around the word “minority.” It would be far better to say, of those five civilians, one must be black, one Hispanic, and one female.

Meanwhile, number two is a far more complicated proposition.

My original Evanston hometown has tried to implement an officer residency requirement for years, but the problem there is, few officers can afford to live in that city. That’s not an undue obstacle as it stands now, but it could become an issue as Elgin continues to make its comeback.

While you certainly want your officers to be fully invested in their city, a residency requirement ultimately limits the new recruit pool, and thus, it dilutes the available talent. Though the U-46 School District has made great strides under CEO Tony Sanders, you certainly don’t see parkway real estate development signs boasting “Elgin schools.”

My wife and I moved out of Streamwood solely because of that 90’s era school system, and I’m convinced it would be a deal breaker for many potential EPD candidates. That kind of prerequisite tends to work better in cities with a population of 300,000 or more.

This brings us to reform number three which is patently absurd. It’s nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by Dixon and Powell to rewrite history and stack the deck against Elgin police officers going forward.

So, if you don’t like the verdict rendered by three separate entities in the DeCynthia Clements case, you simply rewrite the rulebook? That’s not the way it works, and that stilted shift will inevitably lead to an equal and opposite reaction when the political pendulum swings back to the right.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m all for internal police investigations being handled by an independent board, but by definition, those bodies must contain former law enforcement officers or how would they possibly understand how to apply the correct standard?

Considering my years covering Kane County family courtrooms and my close friendships with family court judges and attorneys, it seems like I spend half my journalistic life explaining the family law process to participants who are almost always utterly overwhelmed by it.

The bottom line is, just as it is with parenting, nothing can prepare you for family court but being in family court, and sometimes even that fails. It’s no different with internal police investigations.

So, while police reforms are generally a good thing, I question the timing, the intent, and the long-term efficacy of what Dixon and Powell are suggesting.

In part two on Wednesday we’ll discuss the hypocrisy of:

  • Why a city council that’s been in power for four years suddenly chose to act now.
  • Councilman Dixon’s failure to apply the same standard to the law enforcement agency that employs him.
  • How Tish Powell can so easily dismiss a police force that provided her family with the kind of consideration we regular folks would never get to enjoy.

See you then!

8 thoughts on “The First Ward Report – Police reform or just more political pandering?

  1. A simple check of exactly what Dixon and Powell have teamed up to put on council agendas in the past handful of years says everything. Surprise, surprise.

    A few years ago while as a councilman, I had a conversation with our former police chief about possible changes to our police and fire commission. One of our concerns was that there may be people on the commission who would have little understanding of a police officer’s job and the practices used in police work. I suggested then that Elgin consider developing a mini police academy designed specifically for commission members. My hope was that it could be a worldwide academy for use by commissioners everywhere. We bantered (over a Public House city business lunch, I believe) about length of time for this course, topics, etc. We both agreed more input was needed from many people.

    My colleagues on the city council, specifically Powell among them, banned me from adding this idea to a council meeting agenda to discuss and possibly pursue. Unless, of course, I would cut one of them in on the idea so they could take some credit for it. Being lazy entitles people to demand things like this, don’t you know.

    So now we’re here. Considering a proposal for disciplining our police officers by people who are in the position of doing so there only because of their sex and ethnicity.

    Re: #1, I thought putting people into positions based on their sex and ethnicity was a bad thing to do. Weren’t we supposed to stop that some 50 years ago? I guess not. Oops! Forgot about the Rose Martinez appointment a few years ago when mayor Weakling placed his ethnicity and sex order to the council. He wanted a Hispanic female no matter how unqualified she was and he got what he wanted despite three other legit candidates and a former councilman of 21 years being told to go home and come back when they are a Hispanic woman.

  2. I work with Police Officers all over the State. Any use of excessive force by Police Officers is abhorrent, All lives matter, my experience as a Defense Attorney has shown that if as an individual you challenge authority those in authority will react. This is present not just with Law Enforcement Officers but also political leaders, coaches, and teachers. It is part of the human makeup. Before we attack, defund or criticize Law Enforcement lets ask those who Officers are forced to deal with show courtesy and co-operation if an incident arises no matter what race color or creed the Officer or citizen.

    • Very well stated & written! Thank you for the insight of information! I have always been very proud of our EPD and will continue into the future!

      • Barb,

        Thank you for the compliment. And it’s not the the EPD can’t improve, because they can, but the suggested “reforms” won’t make much difference.

        Jeff

    • Cary,

      You’re a little more optimistic about that dynamic than I am. There are far too many officers who should not be officers.

      Jeff

  3. Jeff — great column … and written rapidly & currently … Prof. William in me denotes … If I were an EPD Great verbiage … last Para … provided  … like a fav saying of mine … it is I & I am I high energy to you Will

  4. Many teachers as well as police officers do not wish to live and socialize in the city in which they live. It can be very uncomfortable to see one of your professional contacts in a social setting.

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