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You're the boss at the ballot box this year. In 2020, we are covering elections a little differently, and it puts you in the driver's seat.In previous election cycles, our reporters have gone to local and regional candidates to ask questions about how they plan to serve in public office. This year, we want voters leading these conversations.In collaboration with Illinois Newspapers of the USA Today Network, WNIJ is co-hosting several listening sessions in order to hear directly from voters about what issues are most important to them and specific questions they have for the candidates running to represent their communities. Then, we will ask those questions to the candidates.We will share those responses here and on-air between now and November.We also want to hear from you!Take the survey! Additional support for "You're the Boss" comes from a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network.

Rockford Area Voters Reveal Questions On Policing And Pandemic Response

Spencer Tritt

We’re covering elections a little differently this year. Because in 2020, WNIJ believes “You’re the Boss” at the ballot box. And we’ve been hearing from you about what’s important, and what you want the candidates to be talking about.

Take the survey!

The goal of citizen-led journalism is that voters tell us what they want the candidates to be talking about, and what solutions they think could make their communities better.

We’ve teamed up with the Rockford Register-Star and the Solutions Journalism Network to make this coverage possible. Mark Baldwin is the executive editor of the Rockford Register Star. He said several themes emerged from the survey results so far, leading to the Five Big Questions we pose to local officeholders and those seeking leadership roles:

  • How do you propose to incorporate mental health professionals into the way we police our communities?
  • What do you propose to do to improve the cultural competence of law enforcement?
  • What is your plan to reform law enforcement to ensure that officers are held accountable for misconduct and to make police disciplinary records transparent to the public?
  • What will you do to ensure that important public health decisions are based on science?
  • How do you propose to restore a sense of responsible citizenship? We're talking about issues as diverse as resistance to wearing masks and violent street demonstrations. How do you propose to restore or create a sense that we're all in this together and a shared sense of responsibility for the common good?

Here's a sampling of what we heard from community members in order to develop the Five Big Questions:

  • Policing

What has been your experience of law enforcement in the Rockford region? Are there specific encounters you wish do describe?

"It seems many people equate any criticism of any officer as not supporting police in general, which is not true. I value and appreciate our officers who do difficult and underappreciated work. The interaction I had with that one, while it is one I will never forget, is not representative of the officers of our area in general, although it should serve as a reminder not to dismiss claims of residents."
"My experience is that Rockford law enforcement is not culturally sensitive, and that there should be ongoing competency and diversity training."
"As a minority, I felt that I was racially profiled in Belvidere when I was a teenager along with my friends. Being stopped by police and patting us down without our consent -- "stop and frisk" -- happened more than once."

What changes do you want to see in the way we police our community?

"I feel strongly that local police do NOT need military-grade equipment of any kind."
“We have to start with honest discussions about racism -- implicit or explicit -- and police brutality, because this is causing a division within our entire community.”
“I think holding meetings with the police when they can listen to community leaders about what's going on in the community and educating them about who our communities are.”
“In my opinion, policing should not be a revenue source. A police officer cannot be a police officer, a psychologist and an attorney. Look at how much we expect our police officers to do in this world and it's way too much.”
"I would love to see all police officers be required to wear and use body cams. I would like to see a healthcare professional call to a mental health crisis, not a cop."
"More training in de-escalation using non-lethal force."
"I am very unfamiliar with what accountability looks like in any of the local PDs including Rockford. I think the community would benefit from understanding how accountability works in the event there's an individual unworthy of this important profession. I'd like to know more about that."
"More resources devoted to social services."
"Police officers fixed with specific neighborhoods, rather that police that patrol in cars. This can help with familiarity and community relationships and is not unlike the beat cop of the 1930s - 1940s. Unfortunately budget constraints probably make this too difficult."

What questions do you have about police and their relationship with the Black community that our reporting can answer?

"What training do police officers have in diversity?"
"Community policing has been emphasized by the Rockford Police Department for several years. Is this helping? Is it increasing respect, trust, and cooperation?"
"My only question -- to be answered honestly by police - is this: in what ways do you practice respect for the Black community residents?"
"I would like to understand what the police believe they need to feel safe in their jobs."

  • Pandemic

In the short term, what steps do you think public health officials should take to mitigate the second wave of illness?

"Promote personal responsibility, but stop the 'required mandates.'"
"I would like to see a more aggressive enforcement of the use of masks. I’ve seen a lot of businesses whose employees are not wearing them and a lot of people who are not wearing them or wearing them properly."
"Helping remove the political alignment of mask use. I already see this being done locally and realize the challenges they face. Contact tracing to the extent possible would be helpful. Public Officials need to start addressing misinformation that exists about vaccinations -- I already hear of people who will refuse any vaccination that may be developed."
"I do not know more than the public health officials about this topic. I defer to their expertise. I do wish that all officials outside of public health would get on the same page about this so as not to give the impression that no one knows what they are talking about. This impression then makes people resistant to follow advice. This only works when everyone is taking precautions."
"Continue with face mask/covering mandate; take reopening steps very slowly; try hard to identify ways to reach people who are choosing to reject these options (this is a tall order and may not be possible)."

What steps do you think government can take to speed the recovery of businesses from the economic fallout of the pandemic?

"Don’t open the country before we have this beat, because a second shutdown will be harder on the economy than the first was."
"Enough with all the restrictions and fear."
"Let the businesses have a sufficient capacity to be successful when reopening to keep people employed -- as long as the businesses maintain social distancing and follow the best practices advice -- but leave the businesses open."
"In the last couple of weeks, we have seen what happens when communities reopen businesses earlier than recommended by public health officials. So, first, be guided by the science. Second, financial aid ought to be targeted first to the small businesses that form the backbone of any community."
"I believe the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan program was a good model for providing direct funding assistance, because it was a low-interest loan. I believe the PPP was misused by many companies because it was too easy to access 'free money' without proving economic need, and without any skin in the game. The government could appropriate additional funds to the SBA EIDL for a second wave of direct economic assistance. It would be less of a hand-out, while providing direct funding assistance to those who need it."

What questions do you have about the pandemic or the public health response that our reporting can answer?

"How did respecting science and medical experts become so totally a political issue?"
"Are the restrictions on businesses going to PREVENT significant infections/deaths in the future or are we merely DELAYING the spread of the disease by continuing to 'flatten the curve?'"
"Why the emphasis on the number of cases found, when the cases are almost 90% the result of testing, now in the millions of tests? Positivity is a better indicator of the spread of the disease and/or the number of deaths or hospital usage."
"What progress is being made to better understand how the virus is spread and what efforts are underway to provide a vaccine and/or antibodies that will be available regardless of one's ability to afford them."
"I was expecting something like this (but thought it be war-related) -- why were we caught so unawares? There is not one facet of this disease that we were prepared for."
"Info about how hospitals and healthcare workers are doing."
"How does our preparedness, response and results compare with other communities? For now, I'd welcome an understanding of key differences with Peoria, Bloomington and the Quad Cities."
"What is the status of the Chinese wet markets? Is anyone putting pressure on China to shut them down? Everyone is so distracted by the mask debate and other domestic issues, have we forgotten what caused this pandemic? I believe we can talk about the source of the pandemic in a way that is realistic and respectful, while not inciting xenophobia."