Nearly two dozen attendees including Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and 15th Chicago Police District officers joined the 15th Police District Council’s first meeting, June 8, at Bethel New Life in Austin. The meeting was mostly dedicated to providing information about opportunities for community members to be involved in improving public safety in the district and to listen to residents’ concerns. It was also an opportunity to determine the roles of each district council member and their plans to work with the community.
The district council urged the community to get involved and learn more about the opportunities available for civilians to serve in public roles dedicated to improving policing and public safety.
They also called on the community to hold itself accountable for improving public safety. Carmelita Earls, chosen as chair of the council, called for community members to get active and to share information with police officers if they know of criminal activity.
“They may wear the uniform, but we live inside the boundaries, it’s all of our communities,” Earls said.
“We gotta work in Austin so people can resolve issues among ourselves and bring in police only when violent crime happens,” added Deondre Rutues, a council member.
“We need to look at ways to get the younger generation and Millennials involved in the CAPS meetings,” said Mitts.
Near half of the meeting was dedicated to public comments, where several residents expressed their concerns over public safety in Austin and the Chicago area.
Bertha Purnell, an Austin resident, questioned how the district council will engage with existing grassroots organizations dedicated to improving public safety.
Another attendee said Chicago urgently needs to take steps to reduce violence.
“We’ve tried everything but we still get 600 people killed,” he said. “We need a superintendent and a mayor with guts.”
Oddis O.J. Johnson, who unsuccessfully ran for the 15th district council, said police officers need to slow down and patrol slowly, echoing another resident’s petition to have more police officers “walk the block” and engage with the community. Darius Newsome, who also unsuccessfully ran for the 15th district council was also at the meeting.
Arewa Karen Winters, the third elected member of the council, echoed attendees’ concerns and said the district council provides a historic opportunity for residents to have their voices heard.
“This gives us a level of engagement with them that we have not had before,” she said.
The 15th district council announced the creation of a Facebook page and a newsletter dedicated to providing valuable information and resources to community members.
The meeting started with Earls, selected as chair of the 15th district council, calling for a quorum to conduct the meeting.
“It has been determined by the full council that I operate under the role of the chair,” Earls said. “The chairperson is basically, I’ll give the description out of the CCPSA, is responsible for coordinating meetings and making sure tasks are being completed.”
Rutues, selected as community engagement coordinator, explained his role is to build relationships with the community.
“I’m the direct engaging body with the community as well as the Chicago police, so if there are any public safety concerns or policing issues that you may have in the 15th District, I am the contact person,” he said.
Winters was selected as the nominating committee member, who will be responsible for nominating candidates to be appointed to the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. That commission has the power to select and remove the Chicago Police Department superintendent and police board members. It also has the power to select the chief administrator for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the body that conducts independent investigations on police misconduct.
“I am the nominator and so my role will be to help choose the next commission,” she said. “Right now, we have the interim commission and I’m also the point person to connect the whole [district council] to connect us to the entire district council and to the commission.”
The district council then voted on approving the roles selected for each member. Unlike other meetings covered by this publication, the district councils engaged community members present at the meeting in the voting.
The 15th district council members also voted to approve the bylaws that will guide how the council works, following the bylaws proposed by the CCPSA with an amendment to have an open agenda to define the 15th district council’s mission and vision.
Additionally, the 15th district council proposed and approved having a meeting facilitator from the community, that is a community member who volunteers to help run the monthly public meetings of the 15th district council.
“You have an opportunity to take ownership,” Earls said. “You can choose to sign up and help organize, set up, help sign-in…”
The district council also asked for community members’ support to allow for Spanish interpretation equipment and translation for the communication of district council matters, including informative materials and meetings.
“Language interpretation is needed especially for a community that is becoming more diverse and we have yet to be there,” Rutues said. “So, we wanted to make sure that it was notated in a public setting that we are advocating for such equipment that we need in order to properly interact with all members of the community.”
Meeting attendees voted in favor of approving the meeting facilitator role and the interpretation of materials and meetings in Spanish.
Notably, the district council announced the creation of a legacy award for the 15th district council to honor community members who have been at the forefront of police reform, accountability and oversight. They dedicated the first award to Frank Chapman, who played an instrumental role in the push for police accountability and civilian oversight that led to the creation of the police district councils.
“The reason we are here today is because of the consent decree,” Earls said. “So we understand that we’re standing on the shoulders of many who came before us.”
Each month, community members have an opportunity to nominate people, including officers, block leaders, activists, organizers or anyone who has worked to advance police oversight and accountability in the 15th district.
Winters read the award dedication.
“Be resolved on the 8th of June 2023, we the council present this certificate to Bob Frank Chapman for your many years of dedication to public safety and police accountability, you have forged our current work.”