Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Skokie’s Strong History of Racial Justice, Equity and Inclusion
The Village of Skokie has a long and deep history of commitment to racial justice, equity and inclusion, as illustrated by the following:
Council-Manager Form of Government
Since the Council-Manager form of government was put in place by a referendum of Skokie voters in 1957, the mayor and trustees, as elected officials, set policy and hire a village manager based on qualifications. This professional form of government is designed for the village manager to be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Village.
Village Scholarship – Oakton Community College
In 2007, the Village of Skokie established the Excellence in Government Management scholarship at Oakton Community College to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Skokie residents overwhelmingly adopting a 1957 referendum instituting the Council-Manager form of government in the community. Since then, the scholarship has provided much-needed financial support to Skokie residents of all ages who attend classes at Oakton while pursuing careers in government administration, public safety, public health and other disciplines related to government operations and public service. To date, scholarships have been given to a wide range of Skokie residents of various ages, races, genders and backgrounds to assist in their educational pursuits. The photo to the right, taken in November 2019, shows Mayor George Van Dusen and Skokie resident Javier Montoya, recipient of the 2019-20 Excellence in Government Management Scholarship, who aspires to a career in law enforcement.
The recipient of the 2020-21 Excellence in Government Management scholarship is Odi Nano, a first-generation college student who graduated from Niles West High School in May 2020. The Village scholarship has helped Odi tremendously, allowing him to pursue his education despite his family’s financial struggles. In addition to attending classes at Oakton, Odi works part-time at a fast-food restaurant to help support his family. He is currently pursuing an EMT certificate with the hopes of one day becoming a firefighter.
Each year, Oakton Community College awards more than $800,000 in scholarships to students who attend the college with an average award of $1,500.
The application for the Oakton Educational Foundation and Institutional scholarships, including the Village of Skokie Excellence in Government Management Scholarship, will open on January 1. Applications received by Wednesday, March 31, 2021 will receive priority in review and award consideration. The application can be found at www.oakton.edu/scholarships and remains open to all students through summer and fall 2021.
Workforce Training Initiative
In a partnership with Oakton Community College (OCC), the Village successfully applied for $16,000 in grant funds from the Skokie Community Foundation and the Education Foundation Supporting the Students of Niles Township for a workforce training initiative. Village Human Services staff will recommend unemployed or under-employed Skokie residents for enrollment in short-term certificate training programs at OCC to improve their wage-earning capacity. The grant funds will cover the full cost of admission, tuition, fees, books and if needed, transportation.
Commitment to Fair Housing and Anti-Discriminatory Housing Practices
The Village of Skokie was one of the earliest pioneers in Illinois relative to fair housing by establishing a Fair Housing Ordinance in 1967.
Human Relations Commission Established
The Village of Skokie Human Relations Commission was created in 1979 to promote unity and to encourage residents to work in integrated ways to strengthen the community. The commission’s purpose is to encourage understanding and respect between residents of various racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds and safeguard the rights of all citizens. At the commission’s request and expense, a commission member recently participated in SEED facilitator training (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity) and now provides SEED training to community members through a Skokie Cares initiative that organizes SEED training cohorts each year.
Community Development Block Grant Social Service Support
The Village is the direct recipient of federal funding through Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) since 1974. This is a HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) program originally designed for construction activities that also allows a portion of funding to be made available for public services. Each year, the Village allocates a significant amount of funding to numerous social service organizations that serve underserved, low-income, vulnerable populations in the community, including seniors, victims of domestic violence, the homeless, individuals with mental and physical disabilities and more. In the Village’s 47-year history of receiving CDBG funds, a total of almost $5.4 million has been allocated to social service agencies that support the Skokie community.
The Village participated in founding the Skokie Cares community group in 2017, taking an active role in developing the Skokie Welcomes Everyone campaign and establishing SEED training cohorts in the community.
Youth Court Call
The Village has a Youth Outreach Program that is an interdisciplinary program involving the Village’s Human Services Division, the youth outreach worker in the police department, and the Village’s legal department. This program provides a constructive alternative for youthful offenders who receive tickets for Village ordinance violations who may be assigned community service, anger management classes, education programs, or, when indicated, family counseling instead of receiving traditional citations with fines. The objective of the program is to provide guidance and direction to young people. This highly successful program was established in 1998 and helps many young people each year.
Niles Township Youth Coalition
The Village is a founding member of the Niles Township Youth Coalition that began more than 20 years ago as a partnership between the Skokie Police and Human Services staff, local school administrators, social service agencies and other groups interested in the welfare of young people in the community. The group meets monthly throughout the year to discuss problems and issues facing children and teens throughout the community, with an emphasis on how participating groups can form partnerships to address areas of concern.
The Skokie Fire, Police and Public Works Departments all hold full professional accreditation, and Skokie was the first community in the entire country to achieve this standard. A component if each accreditation process , and continuing re-accreditation processes that occur every three to five years, requires outside experts to review each department’s policies and procedures to verify that they meet national industry best practices and standards of excellence. In addition, the Skokie Health Department is one of only seven board-certified municipal health departments in the State of Illinois, and also undergoes regular re-certification reviews.
Skokie Police Department
Skokie Police Department Anti-Bias Policing
The Police Department regularly offers an opportunity for people to provide anonymous feedback and complaints regarding the police department, independent of the accreditation process, and in most years there are no complaints involving any form of bias or injustice. In the rare instance where a complaint was made, evidence brought forth upon investigation could not sustain the complaint.
Ten Shared Principles
The Skokie Police Department was among the first departments to adopt the “Ten Shared Principles” the result of a joint initiative between the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois NAACP. The Skokie Police Department has actively supported these principles during their creation and continues that commitment today. A few of the shared principles include:
- Value the life of every person, the preservation of life being the highest value
- Recognize that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect
- Reject discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, color, nationality, immigrant status, sexual orientation, gender, disability or familial status
The adoption of these principles in 2018 served to strengthen the Skokie Police Department’s already strong relationship with the community, and Skokie Police Department staff continue actions to replacing mistrust with trust wherever and whenever and however possible.
For example, Skokie police officers have participated in department-wide training including:
- The Anti-Defamation League’s “Anti-Bias for Law Enforcement Program” training
- The Center for Public Safety and Justice’s – Procedural Justice Training.
- Annual training on the use of force is conducted
- More than 40 officers are trained and certified as Crisis Intervention Team Officers.
In addition, in 2018, the Police Department hosted the “Procedural Justice for Communities: A dialogue to Change” where both police officers and community members participated together.
The Skokie Police Department regularly engages with the community through positive programs like National Night Out, Citizen Police Academy, Cops With Kids, visits to block parties, Wednesdays on the Green, the Skokie Backlot Bash, annual Skokie Festival of Cultures and more. In 2015, the Skokie Police Department launched the Many Cultures, One Community – Keeping Skokie Safe initiative through which police officers spend time in neighborhoods and parks every summer, greeting residents and providing crime prevention information.
Community Review of the Skokie Police Department Use of Force Policy
In early 2020, Mayor George Van Dusen took the Obama Foundation’s Reimagining Policing Pledge and committed to taking four specific actions recommended by the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance that is part of the Obama Foundation. The pledge lists the following actions that are intended to examine public safety policies through an equity lens:
- REVIEW your police use of force policies.
- ENGAGE your communities by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in your review.
- REPORT the findings of your review to your community and seek feedback.
- REFORM your community’s police use of force policies.
All of the Skokie Police Department’s policies and procedures are examined regularly through the professional accreditation process, which the Skokie Police Department first received in 1988. The most recent of these reviews occurred in late 2019. The rigorous reaccreditation process included an opportunity for citizen comments on the Skokie Police Department’s practices, and also examined the Department’s compliance with 67 professional standards. The external, professional accreditation team identified no deficiencies. For a number of years, the Skokie Police Department command staff has mandated that all personnel participate in training on non-discriminatory policing practices and the appropriate use of force. Skokie Police personnel participate in this training on an annual basis.
The Skokie Police Department’s Use of Force policy is reviewed annually. At Mayor Van Dusen’s request, the 2020/2021 review is being conducted by the volunteer members of the Village’s Public Safety Commission. Members of the Village’s Human Relations Commission also are participating in the review process along with representatives of 16 community groups. The review and discussion meetings began in September 2020, and will continue on the third Wednesday evening of each month at 7 p.m. The meetings are available to be watched live on the Village’s YouTube channel and cable television stations.
A draft report will be developed in the spring, with a public comment period during which the draft report will be posted on the Village website prior to the document being considered final.
Village Government Listens to the Community
The Village has numerous initiatives to listen and solicit feedback from the community, including:
- National Citizen Survey - Every three years since 2003, the Village has conducted a survey of Skokie citizens. The surveys are administered by the National Research Center in Boulder, Colorado, through the National Community Survey initiative that provides a cost-effective written and online citizen survey tool. Village of Skokie officials and administrators analyze the survey response data in an effort to modify, strengthen and improve Village programs and services to better serve the community. Since in the past the results were not analyzed based on race, going forward, the Village will ensure that this demographic analysis occurs. As a result of high marks in Skokie’s public safety ratings in the 2018 National Citizen Survey, Skokie received a national ‘Voice of the People’ Award for its efforts at community engagement in public safety. View the results for the citizen surveys conducted in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2013, 2015 and 2018.
- Community Forums – In 2019, the Village held a community forum attended by some 90 Skokie residents that participated in discussions about Village programs and services, as well as their concerns and aspirations for the community. See more information and reports from the 2019 Skokie Community Forum. The 2019 community forum, shown to the right, followed a similar community forum held in 2014 that was attended by more than 100 Skokie residents.
- Community Spaghetti Dinners – Held in fall 2016 and spring 2018, hundreds of residents attended these free dinners hosted at the Skokie fire stations and Public Works garage and visited with Village officials and staff.
- Village Board Meetings – All Village Board meeting agendas include a public comment section during which members of the community can address the Board about community matters.
- Through email and AccessSkokie App – Residents can convey their thoughts on community matters by emailing the Village’s at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the AccessSkokie app that can be accessed via smart phone apps or the internet.
- NewSkokie Invitation – Every edition of NewSkokie, the Village’s newsletter that is published six times annually, features an invitation for residents to contact the Village with questions and concerns, providing a variety of options for contacting the Village.
The Village of Skokie Strives to be a Model Organization for Equity and Inclusion
The Village values a diverse workforce and works diligently to recruit, hire and retain a diverse workforce. The Village routinely advertises job opportunities in 143 different locations to reach a diverse applicant pool. This list is regularly updated and expanded; several years ago, the Village added fraternities and sororities that are popular for black or other ethnic groups.
The 7.7% of the Village’s workforce that is Black is slightly greater than the 7% of the community’s population that is Black. The Village remains committed to having a diverse workforce in all ranks that reflects the community’s demographics.
The Skokie Police Officers and Firefighters are hired and sworn in by members of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, a diverse group of Skokie residents who are appointed by the Mayor and Village Board. The current and immediate past-chairpersons of the board are Black.
The Village is committed to reviewing policies and protocols across the organization to strengthen the organization’s equity and inclusivity, and also is committed to furthering our understanding of the community’s needs and expectations that may not have been met.
Employee Equity Team
In fall 2020, the Village established an inter-disciplinary employee equity that meets regularly to discuss methods of increasing the Village’s equity and inclusivity in the workplace. The Employee Equity Team (Team) recently developed and distributed an anonymous survey on workplace equity and inclusion to all employees, with data received still under analysis. The Team is already in contact with Niles Township High School District 219 about increasing paid internship and job shadow opportunities for Skokie high school students. Plans also are underway to create a series of videos about Village programs and services, highlighting various career paths within local government for Skokie youth.
To date, some 20 Village staff members have participated in SEED training (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity) through the Skokie Cares initiative, and a total of ten staff members are currently enrolled in the training along with another 10 members of the Village’s advisory boards and commissions and two elected officials. The Village will encourage more employees, commissioners and elected officials to participate in future SEED cohort groups.
The Village actively supports the Stand Against Racism and monthly Let’s Talk @ Lunch conversations regarding racism, both in partnership with the YMCA North Shore/Evanston. The Village also actively participates in and supports the annual Skokie Festival of Cultures as well as Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township programs from 2010 forward that encourage cultural and racial appreciation and understanding.The photo to the right shows a group of Skokie firefighters participating in the 2020 Stand Against Racism.
The Village of Skokie is committed to racial equity, diversity and inclusion as well as social justice and will continue to listen, learn and respond to further advance these initiatives both within the Village workplace and in the community.