Candidates for St. Charles mayor found themselves delving into previously unexplored issues of poor communication and racial profiling Thursday night as the city's Latino residents tried to identify the person they'll support.
Racial profiling was the clear favorite topic Latino residents wanted mayoral candidates to talk about, according to the questions submitted by the audience of about 40 people. Moderators from Union Latina said several of the questions indicated Latino residents either felt they or someone they knew had been unfairly targeted or approached by police simply because of their ethnicity.
All the candidates said they are opposed to racial profiling, but they differed in how to put residents at ease over the issue.
Jotham Stein said he can't do anything to address racism outside the agencies controlled by the city. However, as mayor, he pledged to work with the police department, through the city administrator, to weed out any problematic officers.
"If I have anything to say about it, there won't be racial profiling in our city," he said.
Stein was also the only candidate to address the audience in Spanish for any length of time.
Jake Wyatt said any officer found to be racially profiling anyone would not only be fired but also prosecuted.
Wyatt said the key to preventing such behavior is to make sure the city staff is diverse along racial and ethnic lines. Wyatt said the issue is so important he'd be willing to increase city expenses to ensure better diversity. There are currently no Latinos on the city's police force.
"We may have a few (employees) that understand some languages, but we need, as a city, to take a hard look at are we training diverse people to be part of the police and fire and public works system," Wyatt said.
John Rabchuk said the fact that any residents feel they've been racially profiled or discriminated against by city employees indicates sensitivity training is in order for all departments.
"We'll train, and we'll weed out those people if they exist," Rabchuk said. "We do have some broad groups in the city who have said we don't want 'those kinds of people' here. We need to take proactive steps to make sure they don't speak for St. Charles."
Ray Rogina is the only one of the four candidates who serves as an elected official now. He said the city has tried to attract Latino police officers but failed so far to draw applications from qualified candidates.
Rogina said the city should be sending its police officers into local schools to encourage law enforcement as a career. Beyond that, the city should create a process for people to report racial profiling, he said.
"My father was a police officer," Rogina said. "I respect the badge, but I don't respect anybody who disparages the badge."