Janice Cho

Chicago Police District Council Elections: What You Need to Know

The City of Chicago will hold its first police district council elections this year following the enactment of a July 2021 ordinance.

Content warning: This article includes discussion of police brutality and sexual misconduct.

On February 28, alongside the mayoral and aldermanic elections, Chicagoans will be voting in members of new political bodies called “district councils.” Each of Chicago’s 22 police districts will now have a three-person district council tasked with improving police accountability and strengthening relations between the police and the general public.

The members of each council will be elected every four years on the same cycle as the mayoral and aldermanic elections. This year, there are four candidates running for the district council for the Second Police District, also known as the Wentworth District. The district, which includes parts of the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and 20th Wards, as well as all of Hyde Park and Kenwood, is bounded roughly by 31st Street in Bronzeville to the north, 60th Street to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, and the Dan Ryan Expressway in Washington Park to the west.

In 2021, following a long standoff between grassroots activist groups and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance meant to allow for greater public control over policing. The ordinance establishes the citywide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, a seven-member supervisory commission charged with shaping Chicago Police Department (CPD) policy.

On the neighborhood level, the ordinance also provides for the creation of 22 district councils, one for each of Chicago’s police districts. These districts, which are intended to help CPD allocate its resources to different parts of the city more efficiently, are independent of wards, community areas, and individual neighborhoods. Each district council will comprise three members who each serve four-year terms.

According to the City of Chicago’s website, the duties of each council will include soliciting community input on CPD policies, facilitating monthly public meetings meant to increase communication between CPD and the general public, promoting restorative justice programs in each district, and working with and nominating members of the Community Commission.

The City also encourages members of the public to participate in projects led by their local district councils. “[T]he more people who participate, the more effective the District Councils can be,” the City’s website reads.

There are four candidates running for three seats in this year’s district council election for the Second Police District: Ephraim Lee, Alexander Perez, Coston Plummer, and Julia Kline. Two of these candidates, Perez and Plummer, are running as a slate.

Ephraim Lee

Ephraim Lee is a truck driver with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and a 24-year Navy reservist currently working on his master’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois Chicago. He has been a resident of Bronzeville for 23 years.

Lee has direct experience working with CPD as the facilitator of Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy meetings in Beat 215, a small patrol area in Bronzeville.

In response to a questionnaire from the Chicago Reader, Lee stated his belief that the City should hire more police officers and that CPD funding should stay about the same as it currently is. He feels that “police need training and some reform” and that “police should accompany healthcare workers to [mental health] crises.” Lee believes that the role of the district councils is simply to help the police do a better job, in part by helping CPD live up to its code of moral conduct and by helping it be more transparent.

“For too many years, our police department has failed to champion and live up to a clear and unfettered code of fairness, accountability, and values, throughout the entire department,” Lee told the Reader. In response to long-standing distrust between Chicagoans and their police department, Lee believes that “only through a dedicated urgency of transparency, and a renewed focus on justice, fairness, and respect, can [those] decades of wounds be fully healed.”

Alexander Perez

Alexander Perez is from Aurora, Illinois, a satellite city to the southwest of Chicago and the second-largest city in the state. He served as the director of community affairs at West Aurora School District 129 from May 2018 through June 2019. In a Ballotpedia survey, Perez said that his time at West Aurora “highlighted the need to utilize resources to invest back into our most vulnerable communities.”

In the last few years, Perez has lived on the South Side in Bridgeport and Bronzeville. In that time, Perez volunteered with the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), where he sought to ensure that “police were really going to respect those boundaries and not…use cannabis to harass communities of color.”

Perez stated in his questionnaire for the Reader that he has experience interacting with CPD. He believes that the City should “[fill] the vacancies that we currently have” but not hire more officers.

Perez believes that CPD funding should stay about the same. He also feels that “the police need training and some reform” and that “police should accompany healthcare workers to [mental health] crises.” Specifically, Perez wants to bring the Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) program to the Second Police District and extend its hours to be closer to 24-7 operation. CARE, which sends a team of mental health professionals to respond to 911 calls, currently operates in a pilot area consisting of the Chatham and Auburn Gresham community areas on the South Side as well as another pilot area on the North Side and an alternate response area on the Southwest Side.

If he is elected to the Second Police District’s district council, Perez aims to “increase transparency and accountability through modernization of communication and outreach efforts.” He hopes to achieve this by creating a “community-owned hub of information,” where safety and security information will be more “accessible and shareable and digestible” than it currently is.

Perez is endorsed by both 20th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor and Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell.

Coston Plummer

Coston Plummer is a home care worker and has been a community organizer in his home neighborhood of Washington Park since 2016. Plummer has no direct experience interacting with CPD, but his older brother, Johnny Plummer, was a victim of the infamous CPD Commander Jon Burge, known for his use of torture and police brutality to extract confessions. In 1991, the elder Plummer, then 15 years old, was sentenced to life in prison for murder after officers working under Burge tortured him for 39 hours, leading to a confession. He is still serving his sentence.

In his questionnaire for the Reader, Plummer stated that CPD officers “need training and some reform” and “should accompany healthcare workers to [mental health] crises.” He believes that the City should hire more police officers but that police department funding should be reduced. “Maybe there’s some way that we can direct some of that money that’s being spent and maybe wasted in certain areas back to mental health,” Plummer told the Hyde Park Herald in an interview.

Plummer believes that the role of a police district councilor is to be a liaison between the community and the police department, representing community interests and establishing civilian oversight over the department.

Plummer has been endorsed by 20th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor as well as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), of which he is a member.

Julia Kline

Julia Kline is a sales and marketing consultant and cofounder of Neighbors Who Vote, a grassroots voter engagement organization. A former Chicago Public Schools teacher raised in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago, Kline moved to Hyde Park in 2019, having become familiar with the area through her work with progressive activist group Indivisible Chicago.

Kline told the Reader that she chose to run for the Second Police District’s district council because she feels officers who commit wrongdoings are not adequately punished. She says that misconduct allegations run rampant in CPD and that some have “multiple dozens of accusations of misconduct against them.” Kline added that as a 15-year-old, she was nearly raped by two police officers who had caught her smoking marijuana.

Kline believes that the city should reform its police department by ceasing hiring, taking funding cuts, and stopping the involvement of officers in mental health crisis calls. She also supports shifting public safety policy away from policing in general in favor of an “entirely separate safety infrastructure” based in “restorative justice, mental health resources, violence interruption and outreach.”

Kline told the Herald that “incarceration and surveillance and punishment is not how we prevent carjackings and prevent murders and prevent [sexual assaults]. The way we prevent those crimes is by recognizing how deeply hurt our communities are, and how much our communities need.”

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