Oak Lawn Trustee Robert Streit and Mayor Sandra Bury debated the public’s right to know about increases in crime. Streit claimed the public has a right to know. Bury argued that the disclosure is not necessary in many cases, while continuously interrupting Streit.
Streit and Bury’s comments came at a recent board meeting when Streit asked if the Mayor would release all police reports as previously promised. After Streit spoke, Bury responded by pointing out that some of the crime categories had higher incidents in other years but never answered whether the reports would be publicly released. Then Bury recognized Village Manager Larry Deetjen, an appointed official, who does not technically have a voice on the village board. Deetjen also avoided speaking about the issue of whether the reports would be released, instead claiming that despite recent published FBI statistics to the contrary, crime had not increased in Oak Lawn.
After Deetjen spoke, Police Chief Mike Murray spoke, claiming that most of the rapes were committed against women in their own homes by people they knew or met at a “drinking party”.
Streit then attempted to clarify the request noting that the issue was about transparency and not the fact that crime had increased. Streit said that his request for reports was “not a critique of the police department or how they are doing in addressing crime.” Instead, he said that his request was about the board being aware of what is happening in the village regarding crime and making a policy decision on whether the reports should be released.
Streit said that it was also important that the residents are aware of any increase in crime. “If there is an increase in let’s say sexual offenses, if the public doesn’t know about it they can’t protect themselves,” said Streit.
Bury had previously said that the release of the reports would cause the release of the names of rape victims. However, that information can be redacted according to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Streit said after the meeting that Bury raised that issue as “a smokescreen” to cover up the real issue of transparency.
At the meeting, he was interrupted by Bury when he said, “nobody is suggesting that we take the names of those people that are victims and release that information”. Bury interjected, “Can you deny sir that that has not been done by your blog. I’ve seen police reports on there…I don’t like that stuff being leaked out like that”. She added that she doesn’t think it is appropriate.
While Bury claimed that she had seen police reports on “your blog”, the discussion centered on the administration’s failure to turn over all the police reports. Streit said that the publication of police reports by the media is common and he supports the publication of reports, statistics and crime blotters because it makes the public aware and therefore safer.
Streit answered Bury at the meeting stating that he doesn’t have a blog but does maintain a website, Friends of Bob Streit, and publishes an electronic newsletter from that site. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “blog” as “a Web site that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.” Wikepedia explains that “many blogs provide commentary on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries; others function more as online brand advertising of a particular individual or company. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic.”
Bury also attacked “the former Mayor” (Dave Heilmann) interrupting Streit and claiming that Heilmann and Streit had started a website for “political purposes”. Bury maintains several websites herself for political purposes and Streit said “what you call political purposes I say is for the purpose of making the public aware of what is going on.”
Streit directly challenged Bury to release all of the police reports several times stating, “I know you don’t want the public to know.” He said that Bury doesn’t want to be held accountable for her record as Mayor but she defended her record stating “I’m so proud of my record and the record of this board.”
Streit again told the Mayor that “the public has a right to know and I know you don’t think they have a right to know.” Streit said that even though the Mayor doesn’t think the public should have access to police reports, he believes that the reports are public records and that the public believes they have a right to the information.
Throughout the back and forth, Bury did not stray from her opposition to the public release of reports, challenging Streit to tell her when he realized that the policy had to change. Streit, who has been a Trustee since 1991, said that the Trustees always received reports in their districts and in April of 2014 he requested all of the reports. At that time, the administration agreed to provide all police reports to every Trustee. However, he said he tracked the reports and it became clear that the all reports were not being given and questioned why the reports were being withheld.
The discussion became testy as Bury, after asking the question, interrupted Streit as he answered. Streit, at that point interjected stating, “do you mind letting me answer? You asked a question and I would appreciate the opportunity to answer it.” Even as Streit attempted to continue the answer, Bury impatiently stated, “well answer it then”. Streit said “thank you” and Bury again said, “Okay, I’m waiting.”
After first agreeing at a Village Board Meeting that all reports should be made public, Bury sent an email to all of the Trustees stating that several categories of police reports, including domestic violence crimes, car accidents, and rapes were not made public.
Streit said that he recalls a similar issue in the 1990’s when several rapes occurred in a short period of time and he asked why the reports were not made public. Streit said the police chief at the time said that the police were not releasing the reports because they were close to catching the guy. Streit said that the attitude was wrong then and it is wrong now because the village was using the public “as bait”.