Racial division on Elgin police task force cloud final stages of its work
Elgin is on the verge of joining other communities across the country in trying to implement citizen-driven policy changes in hopes of resolving distrust of police among Black and Hispanic residents.
The work follows the efforts of other communities while, perhaps, spurring others to similar efforts. Evanston implemented slavery reparations. Aurora created a citizens' review board for police misconduct as part of its CHANGE Reform Initiative.
A year of work by Elgin's citizen's task force on policing yielded 64 recommendations, including its own version of a citizens' review board. But with the stage set for the wider community to weigh in on those recommendations, even some members of Elgin's task force have doubts about the true impact of their work.
Mainly, will the city council approve reforms that lead the city's Black citizens to believe Elgin police serve and protect them the same as their white neighbors? Or will the task force's legacy be a yearlong effort that city officials point to as proof of change only to see the day-to-day reality remain the same?
The uncertainty stems from two pressure points.
Black members of the task force believe most of the problematic policing and lack of trust for law enforcement resides in the Black community. But much of the work of the non-Black task force members has not solely focused on those Black concerns.
Many of the resulting recommendations center on general police department improvements like reducing overtime, encouraging more bilingual officer recruitment, and having officers mentor students in local schools. Some recommendations could expand the police department's budget and community presence. Meanwhile, discussion of several meaningful changes to the Black community, like a reparations program, were squashed.
LeJewel Crigler was the task force chair until she resigned with a passionate speech at the end of June.
"I thought this task force was about us (Black residents) and how we're being treated," Crigler said in her speech. "Several council members told us everything is good. They think the police are doing OK. Well, it is good for them. If I was white, I'd be saying the same thing. They don't get stopped by the police."
"I am a Black woman staying in Elgin," she said. "I love my city, but I can't say my city loves me."
The second pressure point, alluded to by Crigler, was comments made by city council members during meetings in late spring to extend the funding for the task force. Crigler, and other Black members of the task force, felt insulted and discouraged by the comments of those who voted against the funding. In an interview, Crigler said she was not surprised by comments she believed wallpapered over the police department's sins of the past with a get-over-it sentiment.
"They just want to totally disregard and erase the past, even when a lot of those things are still happening," Crigler said.
There have been at least three other resignations from the task force stemming from a loss of faith that change will happen. And there are others, like Marcus Banner, who remain on the task force despite feeling meaningful reform won't come from the task force's work.
Banner has decried several key recommendations approved by his fellow task force members, including the civilian review board. Banner was unsuccessful in convincing the task force would be a "dog and pony show" if, as it currently stands, the city's police chief still has all power to ignore any discipline recommendations by the review board. The task force did agree to at least try to bargain for that change with the city's police union. Banner isn't optimistic.
"Every time we suggest things that are going to be uncomfortable for law enforcement, everyone who doesn't know better don't want to hear it," Banner said in an interview. "The majority of the task force is more concerned with praising the good work our department does instead of addressing the shortcomings, which affect mostly Black folks. Everyone is OK with the system because it doesn't impact them or their families."
The task force sent the city council a report on their progress at the end of last week.
Mayor David Kaptain said he doesn't expect universal agreement on the task force's recommendations, either by the task force or the city council. The failure or success in creating real change will stem from the quality, or disunity, of the task force's work, he said.
"I don't know what more we can do," Kaptain said. "We deliberately kept our hands off. Otherwise, people will say the council steered this or the mayor steered this. I wanted this to be driven by the people. If they are divided, they'll doom it themselves."
Kaptain said the task force was right not to put all the focus on the Black community's concerns.
"Fifty percent of our people are Spanish-speaking," Kaptain said. "They need to be part of this discussion. There's been talk that this is just a Black issue. It can't be. It has to be how can we make the policing in this community the best it can be for everybody."
Kaptain was just as firm on one other point. The task force's work is done on Sept. 1.
"The longer it goes, the worse it makes it seem like there's nothing clear cut," Kaptain said.
Police Chief Ana Lalley is expected to give her feedback on the task force's recommendations. There will be community feedback sessions on Saturday, July 23, and Tuesday, July 26. The full task force will meet after that to incorporate all that feedback into a final report to the council due at the end of August.
Shimon Blanchard, the official spokesperson for the task force, said he believes the community will see the hard work the task force put into the recommendations.
"Nothing is fixed with one swoop or push of a button," Blanchard said. "The narrative got out that we were trying to say the Elgin Police Department was doing everything wrong. That's not what we're doing. A lot of the EPD has the intention to always do the right thing. We are saying there is always room for improvement."