The last-minute change of meeting date and venue didn’t stop around 20 people from all over the 25th Police District from filling up Avondale’s Fenix Café, 2959 N. Pulaski Rd., for the first-ever 25th Police District Council meeting.
One of the district councils’ primary purposes is to improve communications between the community and police, and much of the first meeting was devoted to fielding questions from residents in attendance. While some were supportive of the district council’s mission, others questioned whether the district councils were even necessary and expressed concerns that police reforms would hinder the ability of police to solve crimes. There was also some confusion among police officers and residents in attendance about the council’s role in changing police policies and other aspects of its role.
The meeting was originally supposed to take place on May 31 at 6 p.m., at Belmont Cragin’s El Artesanal Coffee & Market Co., 5217 W. Diversey Ave. But the public notice for the meeting wasn’t sent out 48 hours in advance, forcing the council to push back the meeting to June 1, still at 6 p.m., and change venues. The council plans to rotate meetings between the many neighborhoods that fall within the 25th District, with the next meeting set to take place on June 22 at 6 p.m. at Austin’s Amundsen Park fieldhouse, 6200 W. Bloomingdale Ave.
In July 2021, Chicago’s City Council approved a package of police reforms that created the city-wide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability and three-member councils for each of the city’s 22 police districts. The councils were elected during the Feb. 28 mayoral election and sworn in on May 5.
Each council will serve as a liaison between the community and the police, getting input from residents on what issues each district should prioritize and the best way to handle those issues. They allow the public to weigh in on what officers are doing wrong and what the officers are doing right. Finally, the councils will be responsible for selecting candidates for city-wide CCPSA. The commission currently has seven members who were appointed by then-mayor Lori Lightfoot on an interim basis.
The 25th police district is the largest and the most diverse district on the West Side, encompassing Galewood, North Austin, West Humboldt Park, Montclare, Belmont-Cragin and Hermosa. It also includes about a fourth of Logan Square and small portions of Avondale and Dunning. The three candidates who won the election reflect that diversity — special needs healthcare professional Angelica Green hails from North Austin, activist Saul Arellano lives in West Humboldt Park and event organizer Jacob Arena lives in Avondale.
On May 24, the council for the 11th district, which includes the two Garfield Parks and half of North Lawndale, met for the first time. That meeting, which Green attended, mostly focused on setting member roles and council bylaws, and residents in attendance complained about not being heard.
The 25th District meeting touched on organizational matters as well. The council unanimously voted to make Arena the chair, put Arellano in charge of community engagement and make Green a member of the inter-council committee that will select city-wide nominees. The council also approved its bylaws without discussion.
Arena told Austin Weekly News the bylaws will be available on the council page of the CCPSA website, but he said that, because there is only one CCPSA employee handing the online presence for all 22 district councils, he had no control over when the bylaws will be up. The bylaws were not available online as of June 6.
But the council spent most of the meeting taking questions from the attendees. Some of the questions centered around the council’s powers – which revealed that even some police officers are in the dark about what the reforms entailed. A 25th District CAPS officer asked about the council’s policy-changing powers and how those changes are determined. Green responded that district councils can only suggest changes – CCPSA is the entity which has policy-changing powers. While she didn’t go into detail about the commission’s role, CCPSA has the power to recommend policy changes, but it and CPD are legally required to negotiate something both sides can agree to before any changes are approved.
Many questions were organizational. Most notably, one resident asked if materials would be available in English and Spanish – an important concern for a district that, overall, has a large Hispanic population.
“In the next [meeting], we will be making sure everything is [available] in Spanish and it’s’ also translated,” said Arellano.
Several attendees shared their public safety concerns, and one attendee wondered what was happening with the asylum-seekers from Central and South American countries that are being sheltered at the 25th District police station. Arellano responded that the migrants have been getting food and local charities have been providing support.
Austin community activist Bertha Purnell asked that, when working on violence reduction, the council doesn’t focus on major players and work with smaller, local organizations. Green assured her that they would.
Several speakers shared skepticism about the police reform. Hermosa Neighborhood Association Executive Director Alma Kreuser, a regular at 25th district police meetings, reiterated her ongoing concerns that legislation aimed at providing alternatives to prison sentences for minor offenses would make crime worse, and asked the council to alert residents of such legislation.
“While [some] may not think it’s a big deal, to me it is. They’re slowly, the city government, the local government, the state government, are peeling away at every opportunity to apprehend people,” Kreuser said. “Just something, so we’re aware of what’s happening, or do we have a say? Because I think these lawmakers are making rules for us, and it’s not helping us at all.”
For district council meeting agendas and bylaws, visit https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/ccpsa/supp_info/district-councils.html