Black Lives Matter activists in Elgin list six demands about police

Activists in Elgin have generated a list of demands to the city related to policing, including diverting funds to mental health and other social services, and forcing the resignation of an officer who fatally shot a woman in 2018.

The group "Elgin in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter" formed in early June as protests swept the country after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The demands, which group members have emailed to the city council, city manager and police chief, also include forming a citizens body that would oversee police internal investigations, discipline, hiring and contracts; removing police from U-46 schools; adding clear body camera procedures and strict enforcement; and allowing listening to police radio communications that currently are encrypted.

"It's about accountability," said resident Sandy Davila, who created the Facebook page for the group, now with more than 750 members, that held a protest outside city hall two weeks ago, with another planned Wednesday. "The police is a racist institution. The mistrust of the community comes from the individuals, because people have been hurt from officers, but the mistrust mainly comes from the institution."

Mayor David Kaptain and Police Chief Ana Lalley said Elgin has worked hard to build a police department that acts professionally and is responsive to the community.

Lt. Chris Jensen, who fatally shot resident Decynthia Clements in 2018, was cleared of wrongdoing, and forcing him to retire would cost "a couple of million dollars" including that for buying out his pension, Kaptain said.

"Chris Jensen will have to decide when to retire," he said.

Reallocating funds

The activists' broadest demand is to "reallocate taxpayer dollars from the police to community-based mental health services, substance abuse treatment services, affordable housing programs and education." The police department's budget is $47.5 million, or 37% of the city's general fund.

"We understand this is an extremely complex issues," said group member Paige Roeber of Elgin. "Rewriting policy, redistributing funds and educating the community, and completely changing the way the police force operates ... we understand that takes time."

Kaptain said he agrees more money is needed in those areas, but it's up to the state and federal governments to restore that funding. The police department has a social services unit that works with the homeless and a collaborative crisis services unit that follows up with individuals who need mental health assistance, he said.

Body cameras

As for body cameras, Elgin has had them for three years - a rarity in the suburbs - and their use is spelled out by policies that in some cases are more stringent than required by state law, Lalley said.

Officers are subject to discipline if they don't wear their body cameras or turn them off inappropriately.

Jensen had his body camera on during the shooting and afterward turned it off twice. Lalley determined he didn't violate policy because of exceptions that mirror state law.

Lalley said she plans to give a presentation at the council meeting Wednesday about different types of civilian police oversight. The decision is ultimately up to the council, which first discussed the issue after Clements' shooting.

Listening in

The activists say that de-encrypting police communications would allow residents to keep an eye on police activity, particularly if officers discriminate against residents.

Lalley and Kaptain said that de-encrypting, particularly in the age of social media, would raise privacy issues for those involved in police calls who may be cleared later, and safety issues if crowds start showing up when there are armed and dangerous individuals.

There are other mechanisms, such as complaints, to hold officers accountable for their behavior, and the public can obtain police data at and via the Freedom of Information Act, Lalley said.

Elgin Area School District U-46 contracts with police departments in Elgin, South Elgin, Bartlett and Streamwood for school resource officers at all its middle schools and high schools. The contracts for 2020-2021 have not been finalized, U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders said.

Both Sanders and Lalley said they are willing to meet with anyone who wants to discuss the demands.

City Manager Rick Kozal declined to comment on specifics. "Community engagement and reasoned discussion is necessary for making informed decisions on these matters of public concern. I welcome opportunities for providing a meaningful exchange of views on these issues," he said.

The group

The members of "Elgin in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter" said there are about 50 active individuals and about 10 "core organizers" including Davila, a part-time kindergarten through sixth-grade teacher at U-46, and Roeber, who used to work for the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin and now works in event planning.

The group says it has reached out to the Black Lives Matter national organization to possibly become a chapter. It has created divisions for research, technology/media, education and direct action, the latter featuring Sarah Wokurka, a student at Elgin Community College. It is also building a youth division.

The group said it also wants to build trust within Elgin's Black community, many of whose members protested the police department after Clements' shooting.

It's especially important for white people to step up and actively work to break down barriers to racial justice, Roeber said. There is also work to be done within the Latino community, where there can be racism but also fear of showing support for protesters due to police presence, Davila said.

The group plans to be actively involved in the spring 2021 election, when four city council seats will be on the ballot. "If they don't listen to our demands," Roeber said, "we are going to fight harder to get the 'no' votes out of the city council."

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