U.S. Senate Candidate Andrea Zopp held a roundtable Friday in the Washington Park neighborhood on Chicago's South Side to discuss her recently-released plan for community-based policing.
Zopp, a former prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's office and the former president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, is challenging U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D, IL-8) in the March 2016 primary for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's (R-IL) seat in the U.S. Senate.
On Wednesday, Zopp, who previously served on the Chicago Board of Education, revealed a policy agenda that aims to address ways the federal government can support community policing and improve the relationships between local law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.
Her plan involves funding a national network of "justice and equality" organizations; passing legislation that addresses racial profiling within law enforcement agencies; tracking data on shooting incidents involving law enforcement officers; requiring increased police sensitivity training and supplying funding for police body cameras; and demilitarizing police departments.
"Community policing is really about engaging the law enforcement community with the communities that they're serving, and making sure there are strong bridges there and relationships there," said Zopp, who has been endorsed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., several members of the Illinois General Assembly and a number of Chicago aldermen.
"I think this is an area in which we need to have improvement, this is not just about [the Chicago Police Department], but I think this is an issue for law enforcement everywhere, but certainly in Chicago we can do better," she said.
Chicago has seen more than 400 homicides in 2015 thus far and much of Friday's roundtable discussion--half of which was closed off to the media--centered on the city's gun violence. About 4:15 p.m. on Monday, 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was shot to death in an alley in the 8000 block of South Damen Ave., sparking community outrage.
"Violence in our city is an outgrowth of a number of issues, too many guns, but also hopelessness. We've built this problem over time," Zopp said.
Zopp added that she plans to offset the cost of her nationwide community-policing plan through savings from reforming America's criminal justice system and lowering the number of incarcerated individuals.
"Undereducated young people, disinvestment in our communities, there's not jobs, there's not education, there's over-incarceration, these are all issues that I'm going to focus on in the Senate ... Community policing is one piece of a much bigger problem," she said.
Rev. Kevin Brooks, pastor of Greater St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South Side's Englewood neighborhood, said Chicago's violence is a "moral citizenry problem" that, particularly in the wake of Tyshawn's death, the entire city should be outraged over.
Brooks, who was one of 19 people to attend the roundtable discussion, asked Zopp how she planned to ensure the implementation of her community policing proposal.
"Step one is starting with these policy issues. These policy positions are not going to fix it, but they'll help, they'll help drive the conversation," Zopp said. "Step two is to start creating this dialogue across the state and to start pushing for a sense of urgency."
Brooks said that he loved Zopp's plan, adding that he and his church work to build relationships between the Englewood community and Chicago police, but "could certainly use help" from the federal government.
"This plan could be the first step in changing the narrative on how we really deal with the issue of public safety and justice in our disenfranchised, disinherited and even disrespected communities where we see a lot of violence," he said.
Here's more from Zopp:
Marco Johnson, a former Chicago police officer of 28 years and volunteer executive director for the Chicago Police Athletic League, said the relationships between the city's communities and police officers "need to be worked on."
Johnson also said he witnessed a great deal of racial profiling within the department.
"There's always one police officer who makes it bad for the rest of the department," he said. "But police are the ones that are going to step in and make a difference and save your life. We're not the bad guys, but there's just no trust."
Johnson added that he supports body cameras and increased sensitivity training, but he also said he would like to see more diversity within the Chicago Police Department.
Zopp said that while her plan addresses excessive force within police departments, community involvement is at the crux of her proposal.
"We touch a little bit on police-involved shootings, but the whole idea around community policing, true community policing makes communities safer," she said. "You're going to be more effective at policing when you're engaged with the community ... you have that trust and relationship."
Zopp added that her senatorial campaign is "going really well.
"We're starting to build some momentum, we're building community engagement and political support, all the right pieces," she said. "We're working to get my name recognition up and we're excited. We're right on track, from my perspective."