Elgin council candidates differ on value of police task force

  • The nine candidates for Elgin City Council took part in a voter forum Tuesday at Journey of Hope Church in Elgin.

      The nine candidates for Elgin City Council took part in a voter forum Tuesday at Journey of Hope Church in Elgin. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Updated 3/18/2023 9:41 AM

As Elgin residents await the final, long-sought recommendations from the city's community task force on policing, the nine candidates running for city council have differing views on both the effectiveness of the task force and the role the council and residents should play when it comes to the police department.

Three incumbents -- Rose Martinez, Tish Powell and John Steffen -- are in the race for four available at-large seats with challengers Christina "Tia" Aagesen, Diana Alfaro, Marcus Banner, Ismael Cordova, Karin Jones and Anthony Ortiz.


Current council member Toby Shaw is not seeking reelection. A 10th candidate, Mark Smith, submitted paperwork to withdraw from the race, but his name will still appear on the ballot.

The candidates addressed the issue during a recent forum at Journey of Hope Church.

Martinez, who is seeking her third term on the council, consistently opposed the formation of the task force from the start and continues to lament the more than $500,000 the city has spent on it. She said that she would oppose the creation of a civilian review board if it's brought up for a vote, as expected.

"There's 18,000 police departments nationally, and only 126 have something that's similar to a civilian review board," she said. "And it's because there's something going wrong with their police departments. Our police department is not perfect, but it's one of the best ... in the country."

Her fellow incumbents took an opposing view.

Powell was one of the council liaisons on the task force and one of the advocates for its work. She has served on the city council since 2011.

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"We've had people in our community for a number of years that have come before our council that don't feel like they've always been treated fairly by our police department," Powell said.

She said the task force's work was "very important in our community.

"We talk about community policing," she said. "It's time for us to bring it full circle so our community has a say in how they are policed in this community."

Steffen, who is seeking a fifth term, has supported the task force and voted in favor of all its recommendations while acknowledging the police department already has been proactive and progressive on many issues. He hedged about whether he'd support the civilian review board.

"I think the devil is going to be in the details as to how that is proposed and what the actual details of that entail," he said.

Of the five challengers, Cordova and Banner both served on the task force.


Cordova was vice chair. He said the city did not set the task force up to succeed.

"I can wholeheartedly say that it was a waste of time and money," he said. "Not because of the people that were up there ... it was because the city of Elgin and the leaders in our council did not create a strong foundation for us to discuss the issues in a productive manner."

He said he favors creating a residents board that can help select future police chiefs.

"Our chief dictates how our officers behave, and that's how we can hold them accountable in the future," he said.

Banner also had problems with how the process was implemented.

"The concept of a task force -- great idea," he said. "The money we spent on it -- not so much."

He said the outside facilitator knew nothing about Elgin, and the work could have been done by Elgin resident volunteers.

He also said he supports a civilian review board, but only if it's given oversight power to do investigations, discipline and fire officers and "hire as we see fit for our community.

Jones said she watched every community task force meeting. She called the first three months "a waste of time."

"The task force members didn't know anything about the police department," she said. "The facilitators that came on didn't know anything about the police department.

"In excess of $500,000 was spent on this community task force," Jones said, "and I just think about the programming, the training and opportunities that could have been made available to our police department to improve them."

Ortiz, who serves as chairman of Elgin's police and fire commission, said the city and department have a strong, collaborative relationship. He said, if anything, the task force slowed down measures that already were in the works, such as removing the education requirements for hiring new police officers.

Aagesen and Alfaro said there was value to be found in the task force.

Aagesen said if things are functioning well, a civilian review board can help ensure it continues.

"I think having some additional oversight is a positive for our community," she said.

Alfaro said mechanisms like the task force are important so that residents of all racial, ethnic, social and economic backgrounds have seat at the table.

"We need to create more avenues like that," she said.

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