I have watched with interest the “Defund the Police” movement and the movement to replace police with mental health professionals claiming to be here in the village. I find this view out of place in a wealthy village right next to a crime-ridden neighborhood full of chop shops, pawnshops buying up stolen goods, open-air drug markets and streets where shootings and robberies are common.
I live half a block east of Columbus Park and in the years I’ve lived here I’ve had three home invasions, a blocked home invasion that damaged my house, the theft of all my bikes, hand tools, lawn mower and said car from my garage.
Honestly, what keeps me here in Oak Park is our excellent police force, which I believe is why the crime isn’t worse in Oak Park.
Leave your garage door open and the police will call you. Dial 911 by mistake and a police officer will come to you. Ring your home security alarm and in 1-3 minutes a policeman will come. Make a stupid driving mistake in the eyes of a police officer and you will be arrested and in most cases educated on driver safety. Ask a fender and a policeman will come and report and try to find the lowest difficulty answer for both drivers.
Oak Park police officers are law enforcement officers, crime prevention or arresting officers, umpires, violence and crisis responders, first responders until paramedics arrive paramedics, and more. We need a full complement of 126 sworn people under a fair and just union contract to provide the citizens of Oak Park with the services we expect and deserve.
We also need a police force that treats everyone on the streets of Oak Park with fairness, fairness, respect and justice. We need police officers who know when to call a clinical social worker, crisis responder or other mental health professional when the problem involves drugs, alcohol and mental health. We need police officers who do not prejudge Black, Brown, non-English speaking, Indigenous, Latino, or other racial, ethnic, or religious minorities.
I kinda know what I’m talking about. I was the president of our neighborhood organization, which worked with our police officer on quality of life and safety issues. I have worked as a mental health licensed clinical emergency social worker in military, VA and tertiary emergency rooms with frequent interactions with police, DCFS, community and police trauma social workers, rape victim advocates and various EMS personnel. As a member of the Community Relations Commission, I have heard complaints from minority citizens about the Oak Park police department.
In other words, we could not survive without proper policing. But also simply, we must ensure as a community that policing is proportional, fair, equitable and just for all people who live in and pass through Oak Park. We must ensure that community emergency mental health professionals are called upon when appropriate and necessary, and that they are trained to function as part of a community policing team with the privileges and respect they deserve.
I saw in person the respect and effectiveness of the mental health/police teams at Proviso when I worked in the emergency room of a large teaching hospital in the township of Proviso, and I was told that the Thrive Center fulfilled this role in Oak Park Township.
We need our police, but we need them to practice a form of policing that is consistent with community values and the reality of our multi-racial, multi-sex, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-economic, multi-political philosophy, birth-to-100 community identity.
Frank Redin Vozak is a longtime Oak Park resident.