As Waukegan community members and city officials ponder ways to enhance safety including a smooth relationship between residents and police officers, accountability frequently enters the discussion.
The discussion comes as former Waukegan police officer Dante Salinas faces second-degree murder charges in the 2020 shooting death of Marcellis Stinnette. Salinas was quickly fired by police because his body camera was off during the incident. Action on other officer-involved shootings has not been as swift, some say.
Waukegan officials are currently starting to look at the possibility of establishing a civilian office of police accountability (COPA) for the city to potentially give residents a voice in determining appropriate actions of law enforcement.
“It has been a topic of discussion at City Council meetings,” David Motley the city’s director of public relations and communications, said. “The mayor’s office along with the chief of police’s office is evaluating the feasibility of this type of oversight.”
Chris Blanks, the founding chief president of the Black Abolition Movement for the Mind, has lobbied for more police accountability for around 20 years. He believes police answerability creates a trust between the officers and the people they police.
Blanks said Friday when members of the community have an opportunity to evaluate police actions and make recommendations to city officials, the public’s attitude will change and there will be more cooperation.
“A Waukegan COPA is a good thing for public safety,” Blanks said. “It encourages public trust in the police. Police brutality and corruption induces a lack of trust. Citizens will feel more encouraged to communicate with the peace- keepers.”
Anthony McIntyre, the founder of the Antmound Foundation and a longtime activist for good communication between the community and its police officers, said any official board or commission will only be effective if it has some type of authority.
“The only way for it to have acceptance is if it is empowered to do something,” McIntyre said Friday. “Does it just make recommendations or does it have teeth. A toothless tiger is still a tiger but it can’t hurt you.”
Chicago established a COPA in 2016, two years after Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed teenager Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke served nearly three years in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder.
In Chicago, the COPA seeks to be a “leader in police accountability by conducting thorough investigations, to advance the culture of policing and build trust in civilian oversight,” according to its vision statement. It makes recommendations, not legislation.
Blanks said just as Chicago has it COPA, Waukegan should have one too. He wants it to have the same influence locally like the Chicago office possesses. It needs to be significantly more influential than Waukegan’s existing Civil Service Commission, Blanks said.
“It should have the power to implement and encourage policy,” Blanks said. “It needs to have the teeth to have an impact on real discipline and policy. It should definitely have some impact on the implementation of public safety and real accountability.”
Like Waukegan’s Planning and Zoning Commission, McIntyre said an eventual Waukegan COPA should have the authority to investigate and make recommendations on how it believes the City Council should vote.
Working correctly, Blanks said a Waukegan COPA would be in a position to establish trust between the community and the police, particularly in neighborhoods where it is traditionally lacking.
Officials of the Waukegan Police Patrolman’s Union Public Unit 42 could not be reached for comment.