Meet the 18th District Police Council candidates: Contenders speak on their campaign platforms at police council forum


Will Long

(From left) Robert Johnson, Brad Kessler, Kimberly Bowman, Karen Kane and Lisa Seigneur are candidates for the 18th District Police Council.

With the 2023 election right around the corner, a forum for the 18th District Police Council was held at DePaul’s Student Center on Feb. 22. This is the first time three candidates will be voted into the council by Chicago residents. 

Five of the candidates running for the 18th District Police Council gathered in Lincoln Park for the forum, which was moderated by DePaul criminology professor Xavier Perez. Candidate Amy Cross was not present, but is running for the Council. 

At the forum, candidates answered questions and informed voters on their professional backgrounds.

Robert Johnson originally worked in Ohio. He is on the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) and has been on the 18th District Advisory Committee for six years. He is also the chairman of Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR). 

“I’ve been a police officer for seven years in Ohio, transitioned to the fire department and ended up spending 33 years in the fire service retiring as a fire chief,” Johnson said. 

Brad Kessler was born and raised in Chicago. He graduated from Northwestern Law School. A milestone in his career was leading a CPS anti-gang unit. 

Working on this unit, Kessler said he “focused on putting $60 million toward 10,000 kids that were most at risk of becoming shooters in Chicago.” 

Kessler co-runs an organization called Academic Approach. He explained that he is active in his neighbors association within Lincoln Park, overseeing safety and security. He is on the Lincoln Park High School council and a part of the Old Town Triangle Association’s safety committee. 

Kimberly Bowman grew up in Arlington Heights. She is a former teacher and was part of implementing professional learning communities. 

“We call them PLCs, where you look at curriculum, implement and create measurable goals,” Bowman said. “Similar to what we’re trying to do here on the police District Council, implement policy, talk about what’s working, and work together in professional learning communities.”

Bowman is currently the president of the Newberry Plaza condo association and works in real estate. 

Karen Kane is a lifelong Chicagoan and is currently on the Board of Trustees for the Anixter Center Foundation. She is also involved with Marillac St. Vincent, a community organization to fight poverty and violence in Chicago. Professionally, Kane is a certified public accountant and chief financial officer for a variety of organizations with Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits. 

“I want to be part of the solution of solving crime, and working with the police and the local communities in order to do that,” Kane said. 

Lisa Seigneur is a lifelong Chicagoland resident. She has professionally worked with big tech companies and startups such as Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Samsung. She has experience working with large datasets, which she plans to use in her role on the Police Council. Seigneur is on the safety team for the River North Residents Association. She is also a graduate of the Citizens Police Academy. 

Amy Cross is a Chicago resident and an attorney. Cross has experience working through the justice system on a national level. She has done work as a public defender, a high school teacher, and a youth organizer. 

Crime at forefront of 18th police race

During the 18th District Police Council on Feb. 22, candidates were asked by DePaul criminology professor, Xavier Perez, who moderated the forum, questions regarding their thoughts on the current crime rate, what they plan to do about it and how they plan to work with the police department to mitigate the rise in crime. 

The 18th Police District includes Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast, Streeterville and the Near North Side area. 

The first question candidates were asked was why voters should care about the District Police Council and for candidates to pick the top reason they were running. 

Those elected for the Police Council will play a variety of key roles. These roles include  building a strong connection between police and residents within a district, as well as collaborating to implement strong community policing. They will also get community input on police practices and policies, along with ensuring accountability regarding public safety. 

Brad Kessler, a Northwestern law graduate, was born in Chicago and co-runs an organization called Academic Approach. (Will Long)

Robert Johnson reiterated his experience working with police and explained what the role means. 

“The big thing is, we’re your voice,” Johnson said. “We’re excited. I’m excited. We’re going to be your voice for the liaison to the police department.” 

Brad Kessler explained more in depth why he is running. 

“It was not [a] surprise [to] any of us in this room that we’ve become afraid, for good reason, of carjackings, and of walking to dinner or being robbed at night,” Kessler said. 

With his background in law, Kessler explained his perspective. 

“I understand that we’ve gotten very bad at preventing crime, and we’ve become even worse at solving crime,” Kessler said. 

Kessler explained that he wants more police in the neighborhoods, as do the other candidates. 

“I’m advocating for more community police in our neighborhoods, so that we can have police officers that are extended members of our family, and we can bring them into our communities and actually get to know them,” Kessler said. 

Bowman spoke on working with the 18th District police and security in her neighborhood over the summer when crime was an issue in the area. 

“We work together to create a safety committee, and we brought in the officers that typically work the Mariano Park triangle and the State Street areas, and we got their input,” Bowman said. 

Kane shared that her background in the business world and nonprofit management can be useful. She cited experience managing large budgets and plans to advocate for police funding. 

“I really want to work on advocating for the budget of the police department to be adequately funded and that the 18th District does in fact, get enough resources in order to replenish our number of police officers that is down 20% from several years ago,” Kane said.

Kane also hopes to increase the technology police use. 

Seigneur wants to use her role on the council to bring data on crime rates to the community. 

“It’s important to understand that this council has the opportunity to actually bring you the trends and results and demystify some of the information for you,” Seigneur said.

Seigneur went on to share data that she has collected on her own, highlighting her skills.

“Carjackings have been a hot topic, but I will tell you that we have a significantly low rate of auto theft compared to citywide, and that in the last 28 days, our crime rate has actually reduced compared to citywide, and actually our top indicator right now is robbery,” Seigneur said. 

Seigneur shared what she found to be the largest crime concern, stating “Robbery is our biggest concern, up 43% year-over-year.”

Candidates went on to share their personal experiences of seeing police work in communities. 

Johnson shared his time working on the “Walk and Talk Program” from this past summer. 

“It started with the commander Hind, Sergeant Shank, and then whatever officers he was able to get that were available, usually like four to five additional, we would walk the business districts,” Johnson said. “These business districts included Streeterville and Magnificent Mile.We actually stopped the businesses, checked on their well being and the problems that they might have, then introduced those officers,” Johnson said. 

Kessler shared his experience of police re-introducing monthly meetings with school leaders.

“I found that very effective because ultimately, if we all see what’s happening in the city, it’s a children’s problem,” Kessler said. “It’s a young adult problem. Our carjackings are being caused 70% of time by young adults by kids who are supposed to be in school [or] preparing for school the next day. What we’ve done at Lincoln Park High School, I think, is a really great example of what can happen when there’s better collaboration between CPD and CPS.”

Since COVID-19 started impacting Chicago Public Schools in 2019, there have been major drops in school attendance as absences have been consistently high, equaling nearly 45% in 2022. 

Kessler explained some of the investments he helped make to the school board.

“What we did was keep regular communication with the CPD,” Kessler said. “We invested in alarms for the school doors. We did that about two years ago, we created a detention policy this year, and we created an in school suspension policy, so that we kept kids inside of the building and didn’t push them out.” 

Bowman wanted to focus on the business angle of working with the police. 

“What I see that’s really effective is the police getting involved with businesses, knowing who the bouncers are at the door at night, who the business owners are,” Bowman said. 

Bowman said that business owners near Division Street and in River North are starting to get well acquainted with police. She believes getting to know the police and increasing community policing will have effective change. 

“We’re starting to see a lot of positive change, and some of the problems in the area reduced because of that,” Bowman said.

Kane talked about her work with the Clark and Division Collaborative, a Facebook group that shares information about crimes in the Gold Coast.

Kane said that gangs are sending people into a store to shoplift and the store wouldn’t report the crime, since it was easy not to and let it be a part of their “shrinkage,” giving way to recurring instances of shoplifting.

“So the Clark and Division Collaborative, along with the residents, and along with the police department, worked in order to get the businesses in to report the crime,” Kane said.

Kane said there was resistance from the business owner. Aftering involving the community, police and the Chicago Department of Business Affairs, they eventually reported the crime. She believes this involvement is the most effective way to reduce crime.

“If you’re going to run a business in our neighborhood, you have the responsibility to report crime, and then to go to court in order to prosecute the crime,” Kane said. 

Seigneur shared three different ways that she believes has helped build trust between the community and the police. 

The first has to do with the 18th Police District hosting a toy drive this past holiday season. 

“They utilized the community center and the Near North Precinct here in the 18th district, and literally filled it with toys, unwrapped gifts,” Seigneur said. “They created a literal Winter Wonderland for the children of our 18th district.”

Seigneur went on to share another aspect of policing she likes to see in her neighborhood, which is the police having their watch meetings outside. 

“It has this huge show of force,” Seigneur said. “When you see like 30 cops outside rallying, getting ready to start the day. It just makes me feel really comfortable as an individual. Like, we’re about to get started. I feel much safer right now.” 

The third thing police have done that she found effective was releasing their Community-Driven Approach to Crime Reduction for 2023. The police are required to release this plan yearly. 

“There’s a three point plan to address drug sales, robberies and violent crimes,” Seigneur said. 

Seigneur believes police being transparent with the community, releasing strategies to the public, will be an effective way to reduce crime. 

“It lists the issues, the opportunities, the affiliate organizations, which include everyone’s organization here that they’re going to partner with, and their resolution and plan for mitigation.”