City Council and residents have heard repeatedly from Evanston City staff about an impending budget crisis threatening service cuts or tax hikes or both in order to meet increasing capital needs and police and fire pension liabilities. As part of the process, Council, City staff, and the public have embarked upon a “priority budgeting” exercise in an effort to find areas in the budget where cuts might be possible.
To date, the Police and Fire departments have not been a significant part of the budget cutting discussion. The June 4 Human Services Committee meeting changed that by opening for discussion a Police Department budget and staffing review.
The City plans to take a “closer look at the Police Department,” said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz in introducing the item for discussion. The discussion, however, was not a far-reaching examination of police officer staff levels. The department currently has 166 sworn officers, and there are no plans to cut that number or even discuss cutting it.
Rather, the staffing review consists of an analysis of four components. First, said Mr. Bobkiewicz, came the “scope of work for a management audit” as a part of a $25,000 allocation to “retain a management consultant to look at administrative functions” within the department in an effort to “streamline some of those functions.”
Mr. Bobkiewicz said it was “important to have a third party look at” the administrative operations of the department.
Next, Mr. Bobkiewicz said the City would conduct an internal review of the investigative services division with an eye toward some budgetary savings. He said staff was “looking to keep as many front line officers as possible” while looking to “streamline middle management.” He said the limited funds for the administrative services audit would not permit the inclusion of investigative services within the scope of the paid consultant’s work.
Third, Mr. Bobkiewicz said staff is reviewing Police Department overtime usage. “A large amount of overtime in the Evanston Police Department [is] not necessarily caused by day-to-day events,” he said, citing Northwestern University athletic events for which Evanston is not reimbursed for police overtime. Fans do pay a ticket tax to the City, however.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said unreimbursed police overtime represents “significant dollars” spent by the City of Evanston.
Fourth, Mr. Bobkiewicz said staff is looking to change the “structure [and] times of day” police officers are deployed, including the commanders and sergeants supervising those officers. He said the department was looking at a “new model of geographic responsibility” with “commanders and sergeants allocated geographically rather than at times of day.”
On the whole, the City hoped to realize some budgetary savings by adjusting the Police Department budget. “Certainly, an eye of this was toward the budget,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz. The ongoing budget survey component of the priority budgeting exercise revealed the fact that there is “a reluctance within the City of Evanston to cut anything…. With 50% of the [discretionary] budget being police and fire, we need to look at both of them.”
Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, asked how many officers are on the street at any given time.
“That’s a complicated question,” replied Chief of Police Richard Eddington. “During the day, the shift minimum generally called for 10 officers, and in the afternoon and evening, 12 or 13.” He called such staffing patrol minimums. “One of the things we have the most control over is overtime,” he added, saying at times the department will “back fill” the street with officers other than patrol officers (such as specialists) to meet patrol minimums.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said over the past decade or so, staffing and budgeting has been relatively flat – except for pension contributions. “Pensions blew up,” he said. The City “cannot ignore these increases in police pensions costs” and funding. “Even with large increases” in the amount funded over the past several years, the police pension fund “is still below 50% funded” according to the analysis provided by the pension fund’s independent auditor.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said staff expected to return to Council in the fall with possible suggested budget adjustments.
At the end of the meeting, though, it became clear how difficult it will be to make any changes to the budget given the demands made of the department by aldermen and by residents. “I would like to make a referral for the Evanston Police Department to produce a memo that explains if we participate in the Chicago gang database,” said Ald. Fleming, a task likely to pass through the department’s administration section.
“I’m [also] interested to just kind of keep abreast of our summer interaction with our youth,” she added, asking “if we can have our police provide an update at our next Human Services meeting or our next few summertime [meetings] just kind of our youth interaction and maybe also include our youth outreach team… so I would like some kind of monthly report on that if possible.”
“Is this a police interaction report?” asked Mr. Bobkiewicz.
“I don’t know. I know we had some issues last year with our youth. I’d like to know how our police are interacting with our youth this summer.”
“If the alderman could provide some more specificity, that would be handy because, for instance, the [Police] Explorers [high school group] were with us this Saturday morning at the anti-violence rally, and I would consider that youth interaction but that’s not what you’re asking me,” said Chief Eddington.
Ald. Fleming seemed to indicate that yes, she would be interested in such interactions. She said she would meet with the Chief outside the meeting to explain what she is looking for.
“Madame Chair, this is an awfully broad request and I guess if the committee would take a moment right now and flesh this out. We have interactions with residents every day,” said the Chief. He referred to the Daily Crime Bulletin as one source of the information Ald. Fleming appeared to be looking for.
“I’m interested in our interactions with our youth and I will classify our youth as being middle-school and high school students,” said Ald. Fleming. She said last summer there were “unpleasant” interactions and “I’m talking about what we’re going to do to prevent that from happening.” She then tried to remove her referral, saying she would be “happy to just speak with the Chief about it.”
“If an alderman is going to be asking for a data collection, I’m a little uncomfortable,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz.
Chief Eddington said the reason for stepping up was, “I don’t want to provide you with statistics that aren’t focused on what you want to know.”
Ald. Fleming continued to seek information, saying, “I don’t know other than from how people complain how we interact with our youth. … Are we picking up 20 youth a night for curfew? Are we picking up youth in the park who are just kind of mulling around because we don’t have enough youth activities? I just don’t know how much during the summer we are interacting – are we shooing kids from downtown? You know, I don’t know the kind of interactions we are having that on my end I would like to be more aware about, so as I’m thinking of budget and programming and things I can say, ‘Hey, we need more activities between 9 and 10 at night,’ or whatever the issues are that you’re seeing dealing with youth who maybe don’t have structured activities.”
Chief Eddington said he would compile a list of service codes used in categorizing police contacts and forward it to the City Manager so that Council, and Ald. Fleming, “could pick and choose” for a “memo with what you want to see, and hopefully that will be closer to what you what to see.”
“So does that mean running every contact card every day?” asked Mr. Bobkiewicz. “I guess I am still at a loss. That sounds like a lot of work.”
Ald. Fleming then narrowed her request to the Ninth Ward. “I’m interested in City-wide because we have a lot of youth, we have a lot of youth who are going to be out this summer [and] I do not want to have another situation” similar to the arrest of middle schoolers for riding bicycle infractions. “I’m happy to [look] in my ward with the Chief, but I don’t find I have – most of the youth are not hanging out in the Ninth Ward” but instead at the beach or downtown. “But if no one else on the committee is quite interested, then I’m happy to drop it and speak with the Chief.”
Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, proposed an alternative to an expansive data collection and analysis. “I share [Ald. Fleming’s] interest in what our youth are doing and how they are interacting with the police,” she said. “I think one thing that has been helpful is a recent request I made to get” a list of “all of the summer youth activities and programming so if there is some engagement they can be redirected to programming that is of interest to them.” She asked for assurance from the Chief that officers were delivering the message when encountering youth in situations where redirection would be appropriate.
Ald. Simmons also asked that the aldermen be informed if a “specific target area where there is trouble” happens to be in an alderman’s ward so “we can do the appropriate outreach” and inform families and the community.
The Chief said he understood the request and would act on it.
The exchange showed the challenges facing the City in budget crunch times. All parties want ever expanding services and deliverables from a staff facing cuts and added pressure to keep costs down.
The Police Department, with its $38 million budget, would seem an obvious place to look for savings, but ever-increasing and -expanding requests for services and data collection continue to strain resources.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said the Fire Department would be subject to a similar analysis soon. Look for an agenda item within the next few weeks on the Administration and Public Works agenda, as that committee governs the Fire Department.