It was a pretty standard election ballot on Tuesday — except for the choices at the very bottom. That’s where for the first time voters could choose people to serve on newly created police district councils to provide civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department.
From May, each of Chicago’s 22 police districts will be overseen by a three-person council. The goal is to help build trust in a beleaguered department that is under a court-ordered consent decree aimed at forcing reform.
One of the key responsibilities of the new district council members will be to nominate seven people to serve on a commission that will set citywide police policy and oversee the entire department.
Colleen Mary Dillon won election to the 16th Police District Council on the Northwest Side.
A resident of Edison Park, Dillon said she knows what it’s like “to worry about kids at night.”
“I’m from a policeman’s family — my father, my sister, my nephews,” said Dillon, who was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.
Dillon said after being encouraged to run, she ultimately decided to do it because she wanted to be “a liaison or bridge between the police and the community.”
“To be honest, I'm not even 100% sure what exactly we’re going to be doing, but if it can bridge the gap between the police and the community and its liaison and help everybody to love, respect and trust the police, I think that would be a common goal,” said Dillon.
Lifelong Pilsen resident Leonardo Quintero was elected to the 12th Police District Council.
Quintero, who works in the field of restorative justice, said his motivation for running was to help drive change in the way police interact with communities — especially Black and Brown and poor communities, which he said “the police system demonizes.”
“I grew up struggling both with community violence but also with police targeting,” said Quintero. “I would get harassed by the police as a teenager consistently just walking down the street. However, the crime rates and the gangbangers and, like, these things would never really get any better despite police numbers being up and police numbers being down, it all pretty much stayed consistent.”
Quintero said he was prompted to run for the council because of the opportunity it presented to reimagine “the whole system in general. Being able to create a new way of doing things.”
Ultimately, he believes the success of the new councils at forging a better relationship between communities and police will largely depend on how officers react to civilian oversight.
“If they are opposed, if they’re being difficult, then it’s going to maintain the status quo of the community having the mistrust,” said Quintero. “If the police are open … and have that transparency, eventually the community will begin to regain that trust. It is not going to be easy. There’s people who are advocates of complete abolition. So at some point, people are going to have to compromise. However that’s not going to start until CPD and the districts themselves begin to be transparent.”
Arewa Karen Winters became a proponent of police reform after she lost a nephew in a police-involved shooting in 2016. Winters was elected to the 15th Police District Council in Austin.
Active in a number of community organizations, Winters co-chaired Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Use of Force Working Group that required police to adopt de-escalation techniques prior to using force.
Winters said she hopes to help move the relationship between the community and police “beyond this element of us versus them.”
“I hope that we can see one another as human,” said Winters. “We have to meet somewhere in the middle. … One part of healing is we got to let our guard down. I think everybody from both sides is coming to this work with guards up, and we’re not going to accomplish the goal that way. We have to humble ourselves. And if we truly are sincere about wanting our streets, our public, to be safe for all of our residents, we have to make some sacrifices here.”
Winters said she is happy that police Superintendent David Brown is stepping down.
“I think every time I’ve been asked about Superintendent Brown, my sentiments have always been the same. ‘Go back to Texas,’” said Winters.
She’s also happy that Lightfoot was not reelected.
“It’s time to share power, and I don’t think the current administration was willing to do that,” said Winters, who is keen to get to work.
“This turn of events that is happening, it is historic, and I’m hoping that whatever we do, we do so well that other cities can emulate because this has been a long time coming to have community oversight over police,” said Winters.
But she also emphasized that police officers “are part of the community as well.”
“I really want to serve my community well,” said Winters. “I love my city, even regardless of what is happening in it right now. I love Chicago. And so this is home and this is where I want to put my hard work in and help to be a part of making changes and making our communities safer.”