Elgin police, clergy working on 'emergency phone tree'
Police and religious leaders in Elgin are working on a protocol for an "emergency phone tree" to be activated in case of potential unrest among the community.
"If some sort of incident were to happen, key leaders would be able to connect and assemble, and put into place ways to de-escalate," said Pastor Mark Weinert of First Christian Church in Elgin.
Weinert is among Elgin-area clergy who meet quarterly with police officials to proactively foster good relationships between police and residents, and try to prevent Ferguson, Missouri-like incidents, group members said after they met Tuesday. The group includes representatives of the African-American Christian Ministers Alliance of Elgin, the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders, the Love Elgin pastors group and the city's human relations commission.
"The trust-building is the most important piece. Because if something were to happen in Elgin, if there is a high trust relationship it would probably turn out differently than in other communities," said the Rev. Denise Tracy, a Unitarian Universalist minister. "At least, that's what we are hoping."
The dialogue with clergy is extremely valuable, Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said. "They help us see our blind spots. I look at the statistics and the numbers, and I draw conclusions, but they present different perspectives."
The phone tree idea came from Pastor Bob Whitt of the former Family Life Church, who's been working as community outreach liaison for the police department since March.
It's important to recognize all sides of the issue for both the community and police, especially in light of the recent shootings targeting police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Whitt said.
"I think EPD has done a great job. I think the community leaders and the clergy have done a great job of sitting at the table," he said. "But let's be careful we don't rest on our laurels, and think that's not going to happen to us."
Clergy members have hosted several "community conversations" to discuss the relationship between police and the community; the human relations commission also has hosted discussions about topics such as the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein of Congregation Kneseth Israel said the group's work was partially responsible for the fact that recent public discussions about a controversial mural in Elgin -- inspired by a 1930 lynching photo -- remained "healthy and productive."
The relationship between residents and police is "in pretty good shape" compared to other places across the country, said the Rev. Nathaniel Edmond of Second Baptist Church.
"I think it goes back to some of those conversations on race. We are not afraid to address the race issue," he said. "Do we have it down pat? No. And we will never have it down pat. All it takes is a couple of incidents and all Hades is to break loose. But right now we have a direct line to the chief, and the chief comes out to (interact with) the community. I think the citizens for the most part feel safe."
The same goes for Elgin's Latino community, said Joel Jara of Fox Valley Christian Action. The deaths of Latinos in police-related incidents across the nation are much less publicized, he pointed out.
"There is a little bit of concern (among Latinos), but it's a little more on the quiet side at this juncture," he said.