Elgin police chief voices opposition in final task force meeting
The final meeting of Elgin's community task force on policing showed opposition by city law enforcement to some of the key aspects of the citizen recommendations, which will now go before the city council.
The task force's meeting this week wrapped up a year's worth of work in reviewing possible changes to city laws, policies and procedures the task force believes will improve the relationship between Elgin police and nonwhite citizens.
Bolstering the idea that change is needed was information presented by Police Chief Ana Lalley that offered two statistical looks at traffic stops. They showed Black people are 1.6 to 7.8 times more likely to be stopped by police than white people in recent years.
The two studies used different methodologies. The larger number was based on expected stops per the racial mix of the population and included areas outside Elgin. The lower number is rooted in traffic accidents in an attempt to filter for the racial mix of people actually driving and of driving age.
The lower number is also more specific to Elgin, which both Lalley and the task force took as a move in the right direction.
That said, Lalley spoke in opposition to one of the key task force recommendations that would ban police from stopping drivers if a non-moving violation was the only reason.
Examples of non-moving violations include objects hanging from a rearview mirror, a single broken taillight when the other light is still functioning, and vehicle registration stickers expired within the last 60 days.
Task force members, particularly the Black members of the task force, believe police too often use those violations to go on fishing expeditions for other crimes and tend to target Black drivers more than white ones.
Lalley said she understands that recommendation is rooted in concerns about racial bias. But, she said, one of the key crimes the city is trying to crack down on is the illegal use of a firearm. Elgin police have recovered 29 guns from traffic stops, though Lalley didn't say if those were recovered during moving or non-moving violations.
"You would be taking away a tool that officers have used that would be counterproductive to the safety of Elgin," Lalley told the task force.
Last year, more than 73% of traffic stops in the city were for moving violations. But nearly 1,200 stops were for non-moving violations.
Lalley's other major point of opposition regarded the power and composition of the civilian review board the task force wants to create to provide transparency into police officer discipline.
More than half the task force's recommendations involve the processes and powers of the pending civilian board. The recommendations call for the city council to appoint the civilian board members. It would also ask the city council to bargain with the police union to give the review board the final say over police discipline.
Lalley took issue with both of those proposals.
She told the task force she will push for police input on who gets appointed to the civilian review board, and she wants to be among the people deciding. She also wants a police union representative to have some say.
"The concern would be that the members of the board are there for some type of retribution (against police)," Lalley explained. "The goal, I think, of having the review board is accountability, transparency and having a community voice."
Beyond that, Lalley said police discipline is too nuanced and filled with too much potential for lawsuits to turn the final say over police discipline to the review board. She said she wants to continue having the ultimate authority on discipline as the police chief.
While some of the non-Black members of the task force said they supported leaving the police chief with the final say, others, including the Rev. Walter Blalark, worried about creating a review board that would be just for show and lack any authority to create change.
"The police should be protecting everybody," Blalark said. "Not just white people but people of all color. We don't see that. And we don't believe the police can police each other. This civilian review board is very important. I think our citizens can do this, and they can do it fairly. We need a strong civilian review board."
The task force will present its recommendations to the city council in September.