Elgin City Council votes to fund school resource officer program
After lengthy discussion and impassioned pleas to the contrary during public comments, the Elgin City Council Wednesday approved a resolution to continue funding the Elgin Area School District U-46 school resource officer program.
The $1.1 million agreement, the cost of which is split by the school district and the city, was approved by a vote of 7-2. Council members Baldemar Lopez and Carol Rauschenberger cast the dissenting votes.
The issue had been a point of contention at the last two council meetings, with some council members expressing dismay at what they considered to be a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic students arrested by officers. Elgin Police Chief Ana Lalley made a lengthy presentation two weeks ago explaining and defending the program.
In voting for the funding, several council members said they believe there is a lot of work to be done to improve the program.
"We need to do a better job working with our school district, and making sure that we set the standard of how our police show up in our community (and) how they show up in our schools," Councilwoman Tish Powell said. "And that has to be that has to be a joint effort between the city and the school district."
Powell said they should take the next year to research and engage the community to get "a full spectrum of voices on this topic," saying they need to hear from more parents, students and staff members on how to improve the program.
"We need to be looking at alternatives to criminalizing children."
Police Chief Ana Lalley responded that "we are not afraid of criticism, nor are we afraid of changes."
"There are things the Elgin Police Department needs to take a critical look at, and we will," she said.
Councilman Corey Dixon acknowledged the validity of the criticism that the program has received.
"This is not an either-or situation to me. This is a subject where both things are true," Dixon said. "We have people on one side who think SROs are great and then we have people on the other side. Neither group is wrong."
"If we do away with something, we have to have a plan going forward," Dixon said. "I don't believe the right thing to do at this time would be to scrap all our SROs"
Several community members sent in letters or spoke in person during public comment against the program.
"This is not about good cops and bad cops. This is about systematic racism," said Sandra Dávila.
Speaking of Chief Lalley, Dávila asked, "How are we sitting here with one side of the story, and not the educators on the ground looking at the racism happening every day in schools?"