Last July’s agreement leads to measurable results
by Melanie Jongsma
LANSING, Ill. (July 10, 2019) – “I was pleasantly surprised at how much had been done,” said Pastor Dan Roels after reviewing the progress report written by Lansing Police Chief Dennis Murrin in February, six months after the Memorandum Of Understanding was signed. While Roels recognizes that much more needs to be done, he does not diminish the progress so far. “It’s a good report,” he said. “It’s a positive thing.”
The Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) was the outcome of months-long mediation between the Village (including the Lansing Police Department) and a coalition of concerned citizens—mediation that became particularly necessary after the June 24, 2017, incident involving a white off-duty police officer and a black teenager. In a process that sometimes left the coalition doubtful about the Village’s sincerity, Chief Murrin was unilaterally commended for his genuineness.
Coalition member Elvis Slaughter went so far as to write a thank-you letter to Chief Murrin. “The Lansing Community Coalition,” wrote Slaughter, “wants to applaud you for sincerely committing to implement MOU initiatives.”
Murrin’s seven-page report documents progress made in:
- Community Policing (specifically recruitment)
- Restorative Justice Program & School Resource Opportunities
- Police/Youth Relations (specifically the production of an educational video)
Highlights from the six-month report are summarized below. The one-year report will be released in the next several weeks, and a second article will summarize those results.
New recruitment strategies
Recruiting qualified police officers is an ongoing challenge for the Lansing Police Department, and Murrin had expressed an eagerness to find new ways to expand the pool of applicants. Slaughter also had served as a Commissioner with the Board of Fire and Police—but his term expired in October and was not renewed. As the only African American Commissioner, he provided that Board a unique perspective, so he worked closely with Chief Murrin to adopt several new recruiting practices, such as:
- Including the testing orientation at the date of the test
- Creating both Spanish and English versions of the job recruitment pamphlet
- Placing a recruitment ad in the National Minority Update
- Attending Job Fairs at TF South, Family Christian Center, Western Illinois University, and Indiana University Northwest prior to the test
- Posting promos on Facebook
- Waiving the $25.00 application fee—this item was not specified by the MOU, but Murrin suggested it, and Slaughter said, “That effort reflected genuine interest by the LPD to remove barriers that might deter people from applying.”
These strategies resulted in 81 applicants for the October 2018 test, 31 of whom took part in the testing process. Fewer than half of those were white:
- 13 African Americans
- 4 Hispanics
- 14 Caucasians
“That speaks volumes of a well-planned recruitment effort,” said Slaughter. On some occasions, the Fire and Police Commission has had only 10 or fewer qualified candidates.
Following the completion of the written test and oral interviews with the Fire and Police Commission, the final eligibility list included 25 names demographically represented as follows:
- 8 African Americans
- 5 Hispanics (Murrin says one of the applicants had been misidentified in the numbers above, and a correction will be made in his one-year progress report)
- 12 Caucasians
It is the Fire and Police Commission that does the hiring of police officers, and the number of officers they can hire is determined mainly by the budget, explained Lori Nylen, Recording Secretary for the Commission. “The Commission can’t do anything until they get the ok from the administration,” she said. “The Mayor or Dan [Podgorski] will tell [Commission Chairman] Gerry [Hartog], ‘Ok, it’s ok for you to appoint five new officers, or two new officers.'” Once they receive a number from the administration, the Commission then begins contacting people in the order they appear on the eligibility list.
Since other police departments are contacting people from the same list, it is common for Lansing’s Fire and Police Commission to reach out to twice as many people in order to get the number of hires they need. From the November list, they worked all the way down to #17 in order to get the 9 names they had been authorized to hire. Those 9 names included:
- 2 African Americans
- 1 Hispanic
- 6 Caucasian
The next step in the process is for the new hires to attend Police Academy, and this time, two of those nine candidates dropped out of the process then—one Caucasian male and one African American female. So the Commission returned to the list and began contacting additional names. They cannot begin another round of recruiting, applying, and testing until all names on this list have been exhausted, or the list reaches its two-year expiration date.
While Slaughter was pleased with the results of the recruiting efforts at the beginning of the hiring process, his ongoing concern is about the demographics represented at the end of the process. He wants to keep working to ensure that all test-takers are equally prepared—for the test, for the Academy, and for a career on the police force. Since Lansing has a residency requirement for police officers, it is also important for the community to be attractive to candidates who are also entertaining offers from Naperville, Burr Ridge, and other towns.
New restorative practices
Murrin’s report explained, “The Lansing Police Department and the Lansing Community Coalition agreed to engage the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in discussions to implement a community-based restorative practices program…for first-time youth offenders.” As part of this initiative, Chief Murrin spoke with the Assistant State’s Attorney’s (ASA’s) office about possible alternatives for juvenile arrests.
Murrin learned that the ASA office does not have any alternative programs or restorative justice programs. And the ASA office cannot help implement a restorative justice program because they are unable to get involved with offenders unless a petition for criminal charges is completed.
So Murrin investigated other options, including partnering with the Southland Juvenile Justice Council, the Urban Youth Trauma Center, and a Restorative Justice Community Court program. None of those options are available in Lansing currently, so Murrin has started discussions about the Lansing Police Department creating its own restorative justice program. “This program would divert eligible first-time offenders away from the juvenile court,” his report explains, “and also divert away from our local ordinance violation process. …[Offenders] may be referred to counseling, community service, and/or attending a ‘life choices’ class. The life choices class would be aimed towards helping redirect the juvenile and teach them how to help make better decisions in life.”
Slaughter’s letter commended Murrin for going the extra mile in this area: “Your efforts to explore possibilities for creating a community-based restorative justice program show sincere commitment to the initiative and go well beyond what the MOU specifically required.”
The first planning meeting for a video project titled “What to Do When Stopped by the Police” happened last July, and filming began last October. TF South students and Lansing’s own police officers have lead roles in the production, and filming locations included the TF South cafeteria, the intersection of Burnham and Ridge, the 2100 block of 178th Street, and the Lansing Police Department.
The first draft of the video was previewed in January, and Village Communications Director Ken Reynolds described it as “missing something.” Another sequence was shot in May, and that helped capture some valuable footage of honest conversations between Lansing police and Lansing youth, so LNN began re-editing to make best use of that footage.
The video is on schedule to be available for the 2019–2020 school year, and discussions will be had about the best way to incorporate it into the TF South curriculum. Chief Murrin wants to include “some pertinent video progress” in his one-year report, which might delay when that report is released.
Strength in diversity
Both Roels and Slaughter would like to believe that this MOU progress report is more than simply a checklist of fulfilled obligations, but rather represents a new way of thinking in Lansing. As people in leadership become more intentional about expanding and diversifying their networks, Lansing’s Boards, Commissions, and Committees can benefit from expanded pools of candidates who bring a wider range of experience, energy, and ideas.
“Lansing is a very beautiful and diverse community with so much offer and so much potential,” says Slaughter. “It is a safe community, with good schools, good businesses, outstanding churches, great parks, great events, a great newspaper, and wonderful neighbors.”