Elgin may form civilian review board, but police union must agree

The Elgin City Council last week agreed in a 6-3 vote that it wants to explore forming a civilian review board to provide input on police discipline.

However, the version of the review board the council favors is watered down from what a citizens' task force recommended, and it faces a major hurdle: The police union must agree to it during contract negotiations, which city attorney Bill Cogley called “extremely unlikely.”

The review board was one of the major recommendations made by a citizens' group that had been charged with improving relations between Elgin residents and police. Currently, the police chief and city manager have the final say on officer discipline, unless outside arbitration is used.

Outside arbitration, with the city making any final decisions, is what officers tend to prefer, Cogley said, citing past negotiations. That's what happens now when the union disagrees with a disciplinary action, and it's why a review board is likely to be a tough sell: 20 years ago, the union successfully took police discipline out of the hands of the city's fire and police commission during negotiations.

The task force members had conflicting views on whether a civilian review board should be the ultimate decision-makers or only provide official input. The task force suggested the board have subpoena power to compel witnesses to testify, and specified a number of women and people of color to include on the board.

In the version advanced by the city council with advice from Cogley, the board would make recommendations that the police chief could accept or reject.

Cogley advised against specifying the number of women and people of color who should be on the review board, and as it's legally indefensible, however, council members support a board that reflects city demographics — particularly the people who have the most frequent population with police.

Councilman Corey Dixon suggested using the state's social equity points for awarding cannabis business licenses as a possible model for review board membership. Those points give preference for people charged with a cannabis offense or who live in a neighborhood disproportionately affected by cannabis arrests.

Mayor David Kaptain said he wants police union members to sit on the civilian review board.

As for subpoena power, Cogley said there doesn't seem to be a need for it, as the review board wouldn't actually be investigating of misconduct allegations; that would still be done by police or an outside law firm.

Council members Steve Thoren, Rose Martinez and Toby Shaw voted against the formation of any civilian review board. Shaw, who was a council liaison to the citizens' group that made the recommendation, said having such a board would feed into negative perceptions of Elgin.

“The citizens review board communicates different things to different people,” Shaw said. “To some people, it communicates transparency. To others, it communicates there's a problem. Overall, I don't think the perception is a positive perception.”

The civilian review board plan will come back to the city council for final votes once officials develop a concrete plan for how to choose the review board's members and after getting feedback from the police union.

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