Police department ‘audit’ divides Oak Park village board

Proposal called ‘massive’ and ‘costly’

Four Oak Park village trustees were ready to abandon the idea of hiring a third-party consultant to audit the Oak Park police department during a divisive discussion Sept. 29 over the project’s drafted request for proposal (RFP). The project’s responsibilities, as outlined in the RFP, were criticized as being “massive” and the expense of carrying out the audit “costly.”

The village board directed staff to create an RFP to solicit potential consultants to conduct the police audit during its June 22 meeting, as part of the board’s commitment to investigating and eradicating systemic racism in local law enforcement. 

The laundry list of project requirements in the RFP presented Sept. 29 include an evaluation of the police department “in regards policing, techniques, training, accountability and community engagement,” as well as a “study of community needs regarding policing and safety,” among many others.

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek told the board the audit would hopefully be completed within the first quarter of 2021 and cost around $25,000.

Trustee Simone Boutet suggested the board reconsider the decision to hire a consultant, believing that the many requirements reflect a board not in consensus.

“It’s gigantic. It’s a fishing expedition and it seems like we’re not really responding to something we all agree on to be a problem,” said Boutet.

Boutet found the completion timeline unreasonable.

“I can’t imagine reviewing every aspect of our police department in Q1,” she said. “There’s no way a consultant would be able to do all that.”

 The $25,000 price tag of the audit seemed inconceivably low to Boutet, who thought the audit more likely to cost over $250,000 and take much longer to complete.

Boutet called the project “costly” and suggested having Police Chief LaDon Reynolds review the police department.

Trustee Deno Andrews was open to abandoning the RFP, stating that hiring a consultant would be a better use of taxpayer money if the board had clearly identified goals for the audit.

“I still don’t know the specific problems that we’re hiring a consultant to fix,” Andrews said.

Andrews said there was value in having an independent party participate in the police reform process if the board couldn’t have the discussions themselves, but that the board discussions had been more productive as of late.

Trustee Jim Taglia flatly refused the idea of reconsidering hiring a consultant.

“We had consensus on this item. I’m not interested and it’s not the point of the meeting tonight to reconsider this,” he said.

Taglia thought the RFP draft had very good elements that would help in building trust in the police department and wanted to avoid moving backward regarding police reform.

“I think when we make a decision, we shouldn’t just flip-flop and go back and forth. I’m kind of tired of that,” Taglia said. “I don’t think it’s healthy to revisit it every time we have a meeting.”

The idea to hire an independent consultant was originally posed by Trustee Susan Buchanan, however Buchanan did not support the RFP on Sept. 29.

Buchanan said she did a search of the RFP draft for the words “race” and “racial,” which ended in disappointment.

“There is absolutely no use of either of those words in this RFP. I’m not sure why because this is about race and policing,” said Buchanan. “If we’re going to spend money, I want the RFP to reflect that we are looking for guidance about race and policing.”

Buchanan was not entirely accurate in this regard, as the RFP did in fact use the word “racial” in its “project background” section to describe Oak Park demographics and “race” in anti-discrimination employment policy. However, Buchanan was accurate in that neither “race” nor “racial” was used to outline the intent of the audit.

“I am not in favor of this RFP because it does not reflect my original idea,” said Buchanan.

Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla voted against hiring an independent consultant June 22 and maintained her decision to oppose the action.

“I don’t think we need a consultant. I think we have heard exactly what we need to do from community members,” Walker-Peddakotla said.

The first thing the board should do to address community safety, Walker-Peddakotla said, was to “create a non-police emergency response team for mental health crises and homelessness crises.” She cited the CAHOOTS model used in Eugene, Oregon as a good example.

“The last thing, and I know this is a sore point, but defunding the police because we spend an exorbitant amount of money on the police in Oak Park.”

Walker-Peddakotla agreed with Boutet that hiring a consultant would cost much more than $25,000.

Trustee Dan Moroney wasn’t “gung-ho” at the idea of hiring a consultant but thought there was value in seeing what guidance might be available outside the village, due to the complexities of police reform.

“This is a challenge because there are a lot of different ideas about what police reform looks like,” said Moroney.

As the board already voted to enlist the help of an independent consultant, Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb felt it unproductive to reconsider the decision when consensus among the board members is very rarely reached due to differing ideas and “strong personalities.”

“I don’t understand this wasting of time and flip-flopping all over the place,” he said.

The village board took no official action to direct staff to revise the RFP. According to the village manager, the concerns of the board will be shared with project bidders upon the issuance of the RFP.

Source: https://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/9-30-2020/Police-department-%27audit%27-divides-Oak-Park-village-board/