Rockford Leaders Talk 'Campaign Zero,' Police Interactions

Aug 28, 2015

Activists in the Black Lives Matter movement recently published a 10-point plan to reduce police violence. Rockford leaders are responding to the proposal.

It’s called "Campaign Zero." National activists want stronger guidelines limiting the use of force. They also want to ban police quotas for tickets and arrests, and end the sale of military weapons to police forces.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey:

“I don’t know that it’s intended to be a one-size solution. It lays out a series of agenda items. We are already moving forward on a vast majority of what I think those items are.”

Morrissey says new measures at the state level are also intended to address interactions during field interviews, or a so-called “stop-and-frisk.”

“The next step will be, starting next year, we will have to give a receipt to the individual so they know who is the officer-- and their badge number. If they have a complaint to file, they will have more information to do that.”

Matthew Simpson co-leads My Brother’s Keeper, a community group trying to improve the lives of the city’s young minority residents.

“I love the high-level look at national issues related to police use of force and things like that. I would just like to see how local activists can look at that document and see how we like it, and how we would like to see things done differently here. Maybe make it a little more unique to our circumstances. I know there are some good things going on, but we do have opportunities for improvement.”

Rockford is not so far removed from the national controversies of police-involved deaths. In 2009, an unarmed black man, Mark Anthony Barmore was shot and killed by Rockford officers after he fled and hid in the basement of a daycare center.

Rockford-area Rep. Litesa Wallace says she feels the Campaign Zero document was well put together and could be implemented in a city like Rockford.

“I think we have an engaged community. Of course, our sensitivities are heightened because of our 2009 incident with the killing of Mark Anthony Barmore. I hope that means his death wasn’t in vain and we will continue to put policies in place to prevent other young men, and other unarmed women from dying.”

Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson says the city has been on a path of self-reform since the Barmore incident.

“Two ways to reform the department: you do it internally, and you see the sort of things that took place in the last few years, or you give up and you have federal monitors and consent decrees, and it costs taxpayers quite a bit of money because the leadership inside of a police department can’t make those fundamental changes," Epperson said. "I am proud of the work our department and our officers have done. We are in a very good position. Are we perfect? No. Are we making changes to improve community relations with the residents in the city of Rockford? Absolutely.”

Rockford leaders continue to respond to the perception of escalating violence. Mayor Morrissey admitted there has been an uptick in random, strong-armed robberies.

Resident Dyanna Walker says there are better areas of the city than others.

“You go into some communities, they would say ‘yes’ it’s better. You go into other communities, especially of color, and it’s worse.”

Matthew Simpson, with My Brother’s Keeper, says it will be critical for officers to have positive interactions in the city’s diverse neighborhoods. This summer, officers took part in a number of organized block parties.

“Some people don’t have good interactions with police. What we want to do is create less adversarial interactions with police and members of the community," Simpson said. "We are kind of working on a front-end with people in the communities to try to create those opportunities for people to see the human being, and also for police to see the families that are living in some of these conditions.”

The speakers were part of WNIJ’s Context series on police interactions. It was held Thursday night at the Rockford Riverfront Museum Park.