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.
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:
- Adding two new citizen positions to the Police and Fire Commission, one filled by a minority and the other by a woman.
- A residency requirement for all officers and not just the command staff.
- 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.
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!