There is power when local and state officials get behind an issue of injustice and bring their shared influence to bear on another level of government. Does not hurt when a range of local media also begin to report on the circumstances.
That combination brought a positive and righteous outcome for Zenna Ramos, a person in training as a Riverside police officer. Ramos had been decertified several months ago as an officer in Illinois by the state’s Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. She has been working for the village in an administrative capacity since the decertification.
The basis of the state agency’s decision was a vacated misdemeanor arrest for shoplifting in 2008 when Ramos was a teen. As Ramos has always acknowledged, she was caught stealing three shirts valued at $14.99. The state board said that very minor matter required that she be blocked from serving as an officer in Illinois.
Now Ramos had already served as a police officer in Cicero and then joined the Riverside department where she was in the midst of training.
Good for Ramos, who has always acknowledged the shoplifting incident. Good for the leadership of the Riverside public safety department and its director Matthew Buckley, which intuitively understood the elemental unfairness of the initial ruling. Good for elected leaders, especially State Reps. La Shawn Ford and Abdelnasser Rashid, who spoke up early and plainly. Finally, good for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who was convinced to bring the full power of the governorship to this issue.
We single out Ford, who has been core to all aspects of this state’s bold efforts at criminal justice reform through the SAFE-T Act. The review board, in our view and in Ford’s, twisted an aspect of the reform measure meant to hold police accountable to instead turn the screws on a valuable young officer who erred in a very minor way as a kid.
Ford is hopeful the decision by the review board to reverse its position will be enough to set a precedent for future decisions. But, he says, the law can also be amended to make its intention more clearly. And we have no doubt that the increasingly influential Ford can accomplish just that.
Buckley is hopeful that Officer Ramos can be back in training in short order. What a fair and hopeful outcome that will be. No one leads unblemished lives. For Ramos to take her mistake and use it as a platform to become a police officer is the best possible outcome. Local officials who stand strong for second chances is all that we can ask for.