May 08, 2021

Berwyn Diversity Commission losing patience with police chief

Commissioners press Cimaglia for more details on specific department policies

BERWYN - Patience with Berwyn Police Chief Michael Cimaglia ran thin at Monday night’s Diversity Commission meeting, as members of the ad-hoc Berwyn group expressed frustration at the chief’s refusal to answer their questions about the police department's ’policies on diversity and de-escalation training, choke holds and shooting at a moving vehicle.

Cimaglia responded to those questions--emailed to him several weeks ago--saying that he wanted copies of the minutes from the past five commission meetings and a roster of everyone on the commission. Cimaglia was invited but was not present at the meeting. His response was delivered in writing.

“I am angry not only as a member of this commission but as a resident of Berwyn,” said 27-year resident Jesus Ramirez. “There is a local election coming up. All I can say directly is Mayor [Robert] Lovero, we are watching. Chief Cimaglia, I am very disappointed.”

Diversity Commission Chair and 6th Ward Alderwoman Alicia Ruiz, said she intends to ask the city council at its Nov. 24 meeting to codify and empower the commission so that it can be assured of the cooperation of city officials, including mayoral appointees such as Cimaglia.

Ruiz ran on Lovero’s slate in 2017 and is running as an Independent in the 2021 election.

“This only confirms to me how imperative it is that this commission be sanctified, codified and empowered by city council so that statements like this will be eliminated,” Ruiz said.

Lovero appointed Cimaglia in 2017. Cimaglia is paid $189,260.50 a year and has 33 annual sick days and 12 vacation days, according to Berwyn records.

According to the Illinois Sunshine Fund, Cimaglia has donated just over $1,000 to the campaign to elect Robert J. Lovero since 2016.

The Diversity Commission was formed in 2019, after Berwyn Comunidad En Acion [BCA] brought statistics about racial profiling to the city council. Lovero and Cimaglia said Berwyn did not have a profiling problem, but offered no supporting data for the claim.

Several commission members resigned this year after expressing frustration with the commission’s lack of agency and Cimaglia’s lack of engagement.

The remaining commissioners – Ruiz, Ramirez, Nenci Rodriguez and Ditran Cara -nevertheless hoped that Cimaglia would provide some answers at Monday’s meeting.

At their October meeting, commission members praised on Cimaglia for agreeing to let residents file complaints against the police department online. Previously, all complaints against police had to be made in person at the police station.

Ruiz called the move “a great first step,” but said the commission had additional questions. She detailed those questions in an email sent to Cimaglia several weeks ago, and reiterated them Monday night.

“What will be the full procedural process for [residents filing] a complaint [with police]? Please include to whom will the complaint be directed, who will respond and follow-up with the complainant what will be the response time for contacting the complainant?”

Commissioners also wanted to know about Cimaglia’s written assurance to them that the police department provided annual in-house diversity training.

“Who will be designated to teach this course? How are they qualified? How will the course completion be documented? What resources/tools were used to create this course?” the commission asked.

Commissioners had similar queries about the police department's de-escalation training and other measures related to the 8 Can’t Wait police reform initiative, which was created in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

8 Can’t Wait calls for policy reforms in eight areas, including training in diversity and de-escalation and a ban on choke holds and strangle holds. The 8 Can’t Wait initiative also cites a wide-ranging study claiming police violence could be decreased by more than 70% if police enacted the policies.

Cimaglia told the commission earlier this month that officers received de-escalation training. Prior to Monday’s meeting, the commission had asked him for more details about that.

“What type of training are officers receiving on how to de-escalate a situation? Is the training a written test, a simulator in class training by a certified school or trainer? How often will they receive the training?” the commission asked.

Finally, commissioners wanted to know why Cimaglia had discouraged but not banned the practice of shooting at moving vehicles. 8 Can’t Wait calls for a ban.

“The commission feels this is not a true compliance of the 8 Can’t Wait initiative. Will you fully comply with the 8 Can’t Wait Initiative? If not, why not?” the commission asked.

Monday night, Ruiz read Cimaglia’s response.

“Due to the recent resignations of key members of your committee over the past few months, I believe that it would be best to send me a communication identifying your current roster of ad hoc committee members that you are representing.

“Before I begin sending you items that I have previously sent to you and other members, I would like for you to send me the minutes for the past five meetings so we can verify exactly what was sent and discussed so we do not rehash issues that have previously been addressed.”

Commissioners called his response a defensive deflection.

“These are questions literally related to [Cimaglia’s] last email to us. Why does he need meeting minutes to answer them? It seems like the chief is trying to use people resigning as a tool to give a non-answer,” Cara said. “It very defensive for no good reason. I don’t understand. He’s saying if there’s less members on the commission he doesn’t feel the need to answer? I don’t know how we move on from this.”

“It’s change,” Ruiz said. “And people are always resistant to change. It is imperative that we continue this work. And that means getting this commission empowered and codified by the city council.”

Monday’s Diversity commission meeting was also attended by Police and Fire Commission representative Anthony Laureto. He stressed that he and his commission had no role in making police policy, and repeatedly asked why the Diversity Commission had not made recommendations as to how Berwyn could diversify its fire and police departments.

The next city council meeting is Nov. 24.The meetings are streamed on the city’s Facebook page as well as by the Rizoma Collective.