DeKalb City Council split over proposed parental fines; police chief calls youth misconduct ‘systemic issue’

DeKalb City Council is expected to hold final vote on proposed parental fines June 12

DeKalb 7th Ward Alderman John Walker speaks at the May 22, 2023, meeting of the DeKalb City Council.

DeKALB – Shrestha Singh said the past few weeks have worried her as a woman who is expecting a child.

“I’m really wary of this ordinance, and I just had some questions,” Singh said. “I’m wondering if in creating it, there was conversation with community members, parents, teachers and social workers at [DeKalb High School],” Singh said. “I’m wondering if organizations like Family Service Agency or [Building Leaders Advocating for Change] Inc. who actually do work with young people in DeKalb have been consulted. Or the public health department, they see violence and public safety as a public health issue.”

The DeKalb resident was among several who voiced opposition Monday night to the City Council’s decision in a 5-3 split vote to beef up fines on parents who’s children are found to have violated city codes related to keeping the peace. The dissenting votes were cast by Ward 1 Alderwoman Carolyn Zasada, Ward 5 Alderman Scott McAdams and Ward 7 Alderman John Walker.

The DeKalb City Council is expected to take a second and final look at the local ordinance in two weeks, at which point city leaders will put the matter to a vote once more.

Mayor Cohen Barnes likened the proposed plan to the city’s crime-free housing ordinance that the council adopted in the fall. Barnes last week called the reported youth misconduct “intolerable” and said he supports the plan.

“This allows us to, with discretion, hold the parent accountable,” Barnes said. “We’re not going to automatically fine ... drag everyone to court for every time their kid steps their toe out of line. It’s when it’s egregious. It allows our DeKalb Police Department to actually have some penalties for the parents to hold them accountable in a situation like that.”

DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes speaks at the May 22, 2023 meeting of the DeKalb City Council.

Under the proposed changes, parents or guardians of minors found to have caused damage to a person or property in violation of city code could be fined by the city between $100 and $1,000 per offense, according to city documents.

The city’s plan, if it holds up, was drawn in response to nuisances and disorderly conduct that had surfaced in the community and spilled into DeKalb schools over this past month. In one instance, a teenager was stabbed and hospitalized. Another teenager was charged in the stabbing and is in custody at River Valley Juvenile Detention Center in Joliet.

According to city documents, fighting at DeKalb High School carried into the Annie Glidden North neighborhood and yards of homes on Russell Road before circulating around Kimberly, West Hillcrest and Pappas drives and North Annie Glidden Road. The crowd of more than 50 grew concentrated in the 700 block of North Annie Glidden, city staff wrote. Another fight incident was reported at the DeKalb Park District’s Haish Gym, 303 S. Ninth St. City officials said the teenagers jumped on police officer’s backs and threw punches.

The youth unrest came just days after the brutal killing of DeKalb High School freshman Gracie Sasso-Cleveland, 15, found dead by police in a dumpster May 7, and one day before a fatal stabbing May 11 where a Class of 2022 DeKalb High School graduate, Marlon King Jr., 19, was killed.

Timothy M. Doll, 29, a registered sex offender of the 500 block of College Avenue in DeKalb, faces first-degree murder charges in Sasso-Cleveland’s May 4 death. Jayden C. Hernandez, 19, of the 500 block of Russell Road and Carreon S. Scott, 20, of the 800 block of West Taylor Street in DeKalb, both face first-degree murder charges in King’s death.

Ward 3 Alderman Tracy Smith, a retired DeKalb police officer, said he believes the proposed ordinance gives potential violators a better opportunity and the ability to practice restorative justice. He said it’s better than having students cycle through the court system.

“This is a yes for me 100%,” Smith said. “We’ve got to give our officers the tools or this is going to be a failure for all of us.”

DeKalb 1st Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Zasada speaks at the May 22, 2023 meeting of the DeKalb City Council.

Not everyone, however, was on board with the proposed ordinance.

Walker said the plan put before the City Council for consideration feels rushed in his view.

“Right now, I just think it’s too early to decide on that,” Walker said. “We need a lot more clarity for this. … I know about the fight at the high school and how it went around the whole block and how our police get disrespect.”

McAdams echoed Walker’s sentiments.

“At this time, I will be a no vote only because I don’t think we have enough data,” McAdams said. “I’d like to see more data before I’d say yes. There’s too many questions and I’m not sure that it would work, but I’d be open to suggestions. I think it’s great that we’re all talking about solutions.”

Zasada told the Daily Chronicle last week she originally intended to support the city’s plan. She said Monday, however, she had a change of heart.

“I am also a no at this point,” Zasada said. “I I found everyone’s communication this evening from the podium up front very compelling. I can really see it both ways. I see this ordinance helping. ... I would recommend some specific changes and shifting this to do exactly what the chief had said, shifting it to require parenting classes for the parents, shifting it to require conflict resolution classes for the children and certainly mental health consideration for the children along with that conflict resolution. I think if you put that instead of the fine, I think that this could be great.”

Ward 4 Alderman Greg Perkins questioned the merits of the city’s proposed plan.

“If there are already laws at the state level in place, why do we need additional layer locally to be able to hold those parents accountable?” Perkins asked.

DeKalb 4th Ward Alderman Greg Perkins speaks at the May 22, 2023 meeting of the DeKalb City Council.

City Attorney Matt Rose replied, saying it’s another tool in the toolbox.

Police Chief David Byrd said he believes it’s important that everyone understands the urgency with which the matter needs to be addressed going forward.

“I just want everyone to have a clear picture that we have children grabbing police officers from around their neck, grabbing police officers who are on the commission of their duties,” Byrd said. “You have to understand that whole picture because now at that point as law enforcement we have to take action. We cannot allow for not just children or any adult to stop a police officer in the commission of their duties – that can’t happen. … This is a systemic issue. It’s been going on for a long time.”

Sid Kincaid, of DeKalb, said he would like the City Council to try to include more restorative practices into the plan.

“I understand that there’s a need for deterrence for being neglectful or not taking action,” Kincaid said. “But similarly with negligent landlords with the crime-free housing ordinance, there’s concern that we’re punishing the landlords who are being responsible. Why not do something similar with the parents? We’ve got something on the books that if we have to use it, we will but let’s not punish the parents who are trying to be responsible and just burdening them further.”

Further action on the city’s proposed ordinance is expected at the council’s June 12 meeting.

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