Despite repeatedly requesting that the Village Board hold a “policy discussion” on the issue of whether police reports should be made public, Trustee Robert Streit is now wondering if the opposition to even discuss the issue is based on politics after watching what he noted was a “choreographed” response at the village board table.
Streit started the discussion under the “Trustee Business” portion of the agenda, asking Mayor Sandra Bury if she was going to allow the issue to be placed on a future board agenda for discussion. While Streit stated that he doesn’t blame Mayor Bury for the increase in crime, he told her that he blames her for her response.
Bury, along with Village Manager Larry Deetjen and Trustee Alex Olejniczak had all made statements that the violent crime rate was down. Deetjen had incorrectly said that crime was no different than the year 2000. Olejniczak told the Oak Lawn Reporter that he could not see any increase in crime. Mayor Bury said that if you compare apples to apples the crime rate is actually down.
Streit said that while the violent crime rate is up from 2013 to 2014, he was dismayed that his fellow elected officials and the Village Manager chose to argue about the crime rate rather than the issue of whether the public has a right to know. “These are public records and the public has a right to know but the Mayor doesn’t think they should know or be able to take precautions if necessary.” Streit said that the argument over whether violent crime has increased or decreased should not even be at issue. “The FBI statistics are clear and unambiguous; violent crime did increase by eleven percent,” he said.
This past weekend, in an interview, Streit pointed to the videotape to suggest that the responses were “choreographed to confuse the issue”. Bury responded first but it was the manner that she responded that made it clear to Streit that the issue had been discussed behind closed doors. Bury thanked Streit and said, “I’m going to respond to a few of these things and then our manager has asked to weigh in…” However, the Village Manager had never asked to weigh in during the open meeting leading some to believe that the response was discussed prior to the meeting.
Bury read a prepared statement which at times appeared to acknowledge an increase in crime and at times disputed the fact, but she never answered the question of whether the public release of the reports would ever be discussed.
Immediately after speaking, Bury said, “We are going to turn the floor to Larry Deetjen, Larry you have the floor.” Deetjen said that he didn’t have a typed up prepared speech, “so I’m going to talk to you from the heart.”
He then suggested that everyone Google the information on a private website which only includes statistics up to 2013 and not the 2014 statistics, ignoring the fact that the FBI maintains the up to date figures. When Deetjen neared the end of his comments, which included an attack on blogging and 24/7 new sites while plugging a private website with outdated information, he held up a piece of paper and said, “but these are the facts, the facts are, and I’m going to repeat again before we allow our Police Chief to say whatever he wants…”
Streit said that the “tag team” approach is very obvious on camera with Deetjen mentioning that Murray would speak even though Murray never asked to be recognized at the meeting. “How the heck did he know that the Chief would speak on the issue, since Chief Murray never asked to speak,” Streit asked.
However, it is apparent in reviewing the video that Murray was prepared to speak on the issue even though the matter was not on the agenda. After Mayor Bury recognizes Murray to speak, she repeatedly asks him “Chief, come to the podium”. After the second time, Murray responds, that he would rather stay in his normal seat because “I have all my paperwork here”.
Streit said that it is apparent that Bury, Deetjen and Murray discussed the issue and prepared the responses prior to the meeting. “This group doesn’t want to put the issue on the agenda for the entire Village Board to discuss but it is very comfortable once again providing the public with a canned presentation that is light on facts and attempts to cloud the issue,” said Streit.
Both Murray and Deetjen referred to the fact that the violent crime numbers accounting for an 11 percent increase amounted to only 9 additional violent crimes. Streit had noted that six of those crimes were rapes. None of the three individuals provided an answer as to why the reports can’t be released, although Bury came close by noting that the reports become public through the news media.
Murray also said that other towns don’t provide any of the police reports to its Trustees. Streit said that he doesn’t know if that is true but he said he doesn’t care if other villages provide the reports to the Trustees. In Oak Lawn, he said, the Trustees have been receiving police reports since he has been on the board. “We should be a leader in transparency and I’m afraid we’ve become a leader in covering up and hiding records from the public,” he said.