Residents, City staff, and members of the Human Services Committee wrangled with thorny issues at the March 6 meeting. Each dealt with a different aspect of police-community relations: the inchoate framework of a citizens police review board, statistics about local arrests for violating City ordinances, and a recent study of traffic stops in several cities across the country released last month by Professor Frank Baumgartner of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Toward an Independent Police Review Board
During citizen comment, several residents spoke about the need for an independent citizens board to review complaints against the police. This is not a new issue; for more than a decade, groups of residents have been pressing for independent review of complaints against police as a means to have greater accountability and transparency about these complaints and how they are resolved.
At present, two committees have the power to review the complaints against police officers and the Police Department, but only the Chief of Police has the power to dispose of the case. (See graphic)
At a public meeting in January, Police Chief Richard Eddington invited members of the community, as well as members of the Citizens Police Advisory Committee, to two meetings that were to be held to come up with a framework for a committee that would create a citizens police review board.
Although the invitation went to 138 people, the City said, only 36 people attended the first meeting, held on Feb. 23, and only 24 attended the second meeting, on March 2.
The bulk of the first meeting was informational, with Police Chief Richard Eddington and Keith Bergeron of the United States Department of Justice encouraging the group to take their time and create something that would work for Evanston. For about the last 20 minutes of that meeting, attendees broke into small groups to answer questions about the possible composition of a working committee to create a citizens review board.
At the March 2 meeting, when Deputy City Manager Kimberly Richardson said she had tabulated the results and would present them at the March 6 Human Services Committee, several of those in attendance said they felt they had been shortchanged. Many did not appear to understand that the purpose of the two meetings was to come up with a framework for a working committee.
Dickelle Fonda, who attended both meetings, said, “This process seems very rushed. We had no time to talk at the last meeting – no time for people to hear each other.”
Jean-Marie Freise said she thought the Feb. 23 meeting was “a brain-storming session.” She said some of those attending the meetings are still learning about the process. “The idea that this is going to the Human Services Committee meeting as feedback – it is not complete. If we were able to talk more, that would be helpful.”
Ms. Richardson said she felt those who responded to the questions “were consistent in their comments” and told those at the March 2 meeting to “address these problems to the Human Services Committee if you are concerned.”
At the March 6 Human Services Committee meeting, some of those who had attended the prior meetings spoke. Bennett Johnson said, “My primary concern is that the citizens didn’t really have time to understand what was going on. When you’re talking about citizen complaints, trust issues, the University of North Carolina study, I recommend that the process slow down just slightly so the citizens can catch up.”
Bobby Burns read a statement on behalf of several of those who attended one or more of the prior meetings, asking that the time be extended to include two additional meetings and that those meetings be led by a neutral facilitator.
Karen Cartwright said she had “a sense of urgency so we could get the process started.” She also said she felt the size of the group – 25 or more people – was “an unworkable number.”
The members of the Human Services Committee agreed to the extension of time requested for the group to hold at least two more meetings and bring a report to the May 1 Human Services Committee meeting. It is not clear whether the City would provide a facilitator or allow the group to select a facilitator from among its members.
The Baumgartner Report
By the end of last week, much of Evanston was abuzz about information in the report “Racial Disparities in Traffic Stop Outcomes” published by Frank Baumgartner and others at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It contained data showing a racial disparity in searches conducted between 2009 and 2014 by the Evanston Police Department after traffic stops.
The Baumgartner Study: According to this study, searches conducted after cars driven by black or Hispanic drivers were stopped by the Evanston Police were much more frequent than when the driver of a car stopped by police was white.
The study found, “Evanston Police Department has the highest black-white search rate ratio. On average, in some years, they search blacks about seven times the rate that they search white drivers. They have the highest disparity for three years: 2009, 2010, and 2013. For the entire 2009-2014 range, Evanston PD places in the top ten outliers, with black-white search rate ratios ranging from about six to seven.”
Stop-and-frisk in Evanston: In May of 2013, the Evanston Police Department implemented a stop-and-frisk policy targeted at specific individuals. One key purpose of the program was to take guns off the street.
Under stop-and-frisk, as stated by the U.S. Supreme Court, “The police can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity “may be afoot,” even if the officer lacks probable cause.”
At a Fifth Ward meeting on May 16, 2013, after a string of shootings and two murders in the west central area of Evanston in December of 2012, Police Chief Richard Eddington announced the stop-and-frisk policy.
To an audience of about 100 people at that meeting, Chief Eddington said, “One thing I’ve worked very hard to avoid is “stop-and-frisk.” [But] We’ve broken through to a level of violence that’s completely unacceptable.” He said he did not believe that “every African American male between the ages of 15 and 50” should be patted down, “but I do have a list of the combatants in these events, and this daisy-chain of violence is not random … The stop-and-frisks will be targeted on these individuals. … The only way for the police to impact a problem is to make it hazardous for you to carry your illegal gun. We’re going to have to change the paradigm that it’s OK to carry a gun.”
No one voiced any objections at that meeting.
The stop-and-frisk program became more focused in September 2015, when the Violence Reduction Program was initiated. Under that program, police officers, primarily those in the Special Operations Unit, target areas in the City where violence has occurred and areas frequented by known gang members in an effort to take illegal guns off the streets, the EPD said when the program started.
In July of 2016, Commander Joe Dugan told the RoundTable, “Before an officer stops somebody, they have to be able to articulate why they did it and have reasoning behind it. It’s not just like following someone around until he doesn’t turn his turn signal on, and then let’s stop him. It’s not like that kind of activity.”
Chief Eddington told the RoundTable at that time, “The stop-and-frisk has to be developed on a stand-alone reasonable suspicion to engage that person,” emphasized the Chief. “But we’re going to be more aware of those people and aware of developing that reasonable suspicion to stop them.”
Between September of 2015 and July of 2016 police had taken more than 70 guns off the street.
Comment: Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, in a Facebook post last week about the Baumgartner report, supported the policy because of the results. She said, “The study raises important questions about the use of these stops for investigatory purposes and the disparities among those stopped and searched by race.
“Ensuring the safety of our community in a way that is respectful to all is a difficult challenge facing communities throughout America. By taking fifty guns off the streets of Evanston through searches conducted during the last eighteen months alone, these stops demonstrate real results. The majority of gun related arrests citywide last year were the result of a traffic stop. I have been to too many funerals of young black men during my eight years as Mayor. If these stops and searches, done lawfully, save lives, I believe we should continue to use this tool to help keep Evanston safe.”
At the Human Services committee, Northwestern graduate student Adam Gross, speaking for 25 Northwestern University professors and graduate students, said they were “deeply concerned about the racial profiling in the [Baumgartner] report.” He also said they were “disheartened and concerned with Mayor Tisdahl’s response.
Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam, who chairs the Human Services Committee and is a candidate for Mayor, also posted a comment on Facebook about the study: “Like many of you, I was greatly disturbed to read the results of the UNC Chapel Hill study on ‘Racial Disparities in Traffic Stop Outcomes’ which was published last month. … I have enormous respect for the brave men and women of the Evanston Police Department who put their lives on the line every day to protect us and our families. We owe a huge debt of gratitude, not only to these men and women but to the husbands, wives, children and parents who support and worry about them every minute that they are on the job. … I believe that any bias reflected in the results of the UNC Chapel Hill Study are the result of systemic bias (i.e., how and where we are currently deploying our forces) as opposed to any personal bias, prejudice or ill will on the part of the first responders who serve this community. Evanston has a police force that looks like the city it polices and that is a good thing. But it is not the only thing.
“I would not be doing my job as a member of this Council OR as a citizen of this community if, without any additional inquiry, I simply accepted that the systemic bias reflected in the UNC study was a price that had to be paid to reduce crime and get guns off the streets.
“The fact that crime decreased 7.2% last year is undeniably a good thing. And it is also a good thing that investigatory traffic stops resulted in the seizure of 50 unlawful guns last year. But we have to examine the human and social cost associated with these gains and whether there are less intrusive ways of achieving these goals.”
Ald. Tendam also posted a list of six questions “designed to determine whether there has been any improvement since 2014” and another set “designed to test the claim that ‘geo-mapping’ (targeting certain neighborhoods) has reduced crime in Evanston.
In an interview on March 8, Chief Eddington told the RoundTable “I have asked Dr. [Alexander] Weiss, a statistician who was one of the consultants who built the data for the Baumgartner report and is ‘the architect of how Illinois collects its traffic-stop data’ to review the report. He’s already pointed out to me how things that – if you don’t examine thoroughly – can be misleading.”
Chief Eddington said the plan is to have Dr. Weiss’ information in time for the May 1 Human Services Committee meeting.
The Human Services Committee plans to discuss the Baumgartner report as well as additional police data at its May 1 meeting. Because the General Election is April 4, Committee members agreed to cancel the April 3 meeting.
The Evanston Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS) handles complaints against the Department and any of its officers. The information below was obtained from the Police Department’s page on the City’s website, cityofevanston.org.
Filing a Complaint
Complaints may be made in person at the Department headquarters. 1454 Elmwood Ave., where one should ask for a shift supervisor; by calling the OPS at 847-866-5009 or 847-866-5047 (during normal business hours) to speak with someone or to make an appointment; by using the drop box in the City: one at the rear of the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. Complaint forms are available at the Police Department, City Clerk's Office, and the lobby of City Hall. They can be downloaded from the police department section on the City’s website, cityofevanston.org.
The Police Department discourages registering complaints online anonymously, “because additional information relevant to your complaint may be omitted that would be required for your complaint to be investigated. Please contact the Office of Professional Standards by telephone instead.”
OPS reviews and investigates the complaint. The investigation could involve getting additional information from the complainant, obtaining statements from witnesses and from the officers accused or involved in the incident, and reviewing reports, videos “and other pertinent evidence.”
Review, Disposition, Review
In the third step, the complaint is sent to the officers’ Supervisor, who reviews the complaint and the investigative process, and then gives a disposition and a recommendation. The Supervisor forwards the disposition and the recommendation to the Division Commander and the Deputy Chief, who review the information and can make modifications and recommendations. From there, the complaint, the disposition, the recommendations and modifications go to the Chief of Police, who, as final arbiter, approves or modifies the disposition. The Department notifies the complainant of the disposition.
After the Chief of Police has approved or modified the Supervisor’s disposition, three committees will review it: the Evanston Police Advisory Committee, EPAC, begun under the previous Chief of Police, Frank Kaminski, and composed of members appointed by him and later by Chief Eddington; the Mayor-appointed citizen Police Advisory Committee (CPAC); and the Human Services Committee of the City Council.
Members of EPAC review the findings and report their dispositions to the Chief of Police. Members of CPAC review the findings and report their dispositions to the Human Services Committee. On a quarterly basis, the Human Services Committee receives these complaints and dispositions. They can request additional information and can convene into executive session to discuss individual cases in more detail.
Under the new procedures unveiled earlier this month, the Chief-appointed committee, EPAC, will be dissolved. The Mayor-appointed citizen Police Advisory Committee (CPAC); and the Evanston Citizen Police Association, composed of representatives of local businesses, will continue to meet.
The Human Services Committee will continue to review the disposition of complaints against police officers.
It is not clear at this point whether an independent review board would fold into this group, whether it would operate on a parallel track, or whether it would eventually replace the Mayor-appointed CPAC.