Defund the police. What does it mean? Here in Oak Park, the clearest indication we have for the meaning of “defund the police” is the ordinance proposed in August 2020, which committed to “reducing the amount spent on policing in the Village of Oak Park by defunding the Oak Park Police department such that we reduce the number of budgeted sworn officers” and “using the dollars from defunding the police to create a non-police response team for mental health crises, homelessness, and domestic disturbances.” Defunding the police in Oak Park is about reducing the number of police officers and redirecting some resources to social services.
You may ask: why is this reduction necessary? Oak Park has more police officers than similar communities of the same size. As of 2018, Oak Park had 116 police officer positions, about 22 officers per 10,000 residents. This is much higher than the 16 officers per 10,000 residents in an average city with 50,000 to 100,000 residents. Some may argue that Oak Park needs more officers due to its proximity to Chicago, but how do we determine the number of police officers we need? Do we really need 38% more police officers per capita than the average community our size? In fact, research has shown that more police officers do not mean lower crime rates, and fewer officers do not mean higher crime rates. And if some funds are redirected from police to a non-police response team for non-violent issues, that can help us address citizen concerns while allowing police to focus on those issues that truly need their response.
Ultimately, this comes down to our priorities. Do we believe that increased policing is what will keep us safer, or do we believe that investing in our community and its safety nets will ultimately create greater safety for more of us? Do we increase our safety by asking police officers to do more and more, or do we allow them to focus by giving non-violent issues over to other qualified responders?
For me, the choice is clear. Let’s vote “Yes” on the upcoming referendum question, “Shall the Village of Oak Park defund its Police Department?” And let’s create a safer, more responsive community.
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