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As the year drew to a close, the RoundTable sat down with Evanston Chief of Police Richard Eddington to recap 2010 and look into 2011 from the police department’s perspective. With an international award and a history of cutting-edge policing strategies, the Evanston Police Force has a great deal of which to be proud. But with homicide rates not matching conviction rates in 2010 and with illegal drugs playing a part in many crimes, Chief Eddington sees a continued need for the community to stand up with the police against antisocial behavior.

Community Policing Award

In October, the department’s community policing efforts through the Safer Neighborhood Area Program (SNAP) in the 1900 block of Jackson Avenue received the 2010 Community Policing Award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The IACP includes more than 20,000 law-enforcement professionals from around the world. 

The recognition by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for our community-oriented policing efforts is an outstanding moment for the department highlighting the efforts of officers Brian Rust, Mike Jones and Tanya Noble. It was a very special event for the EPD,” said Chief Eddington. 

Chief Eddington said the department has been at the vanguard of law enforcement techniques for decades, since at least the days of Lt. Frank Kreml, who literally wrote the book of traffic control and accident investigation in a day and age when cars were just starting to fill the streets and when the roles of pedestrians, cars, trucks, and remaining horses had yet to be defined.

 “Fast forward that to 2010 for Rust, Jones and Noble to be recognized at an international level was outstanding,” said Chief Eddington. “How this translates into impact on the public in this particular instance is phenomenal. If you live in the 1900 block of Jackson, you’ve gone from 1,100 police calls in a period down to less than 100,” Chief Eddington said.   The Jackson Avenue efforts went further than putting officers on the street, walking the beat. They worked closely with the Cook County Housing Authority, for example, to improve living conditions for residents on Jackson, he said.

The Community Policing award was not the only recognition for the department. “This is the third year in a row that the traffic unit has been recognized in the Illinois chiefs’ challenge for our traffic safety efforts,” added the Chief.  The Department, following policy set by the City Council, has been at the vanguard of combating distracted driving, he said, all in furtherance of the “City Council’s goal to make Evanston a walkable city.”

Crime Down, Homicide Up

“Overall, crime continues to trend down,” reported Chief Eddington. “We were down 13 percent last year, we’re down 13 percent this year. … One of the significant statistics buried in that was we went from 54 burglaries in November 2009 to 34 burglaries in November 2010.”

In delivering crime statistics to a reporter, Chief Eddington would always pause, choosing his words carefully. “And to the 34 victims of those burglaries it was still a bad event, a traumatic event,” he said.

Statistics can be useful, and measure a police department’s effectiveness and show crime trends, but “when we begin to talk numbers, there’s always this hazard that it begins to become too businesslike, and I’m always concerned that people hear the comments not in the context of the conversation and figure like I’m reporting the Dow Jones Industrial Average. But it’s a little more personal,” said the Chief.

In prior years, he said, crime spikes between Halloween and Christmas. Burglaries and robberies around CTA stations generally increase. This year, the news was better. “Those are the types of crimes we can anticipate and deploy for, understand the motivations of the criminal, and, most of the time, deal with effectively. And in that, I have to give kudos to the public, and especially the parts of the public that have invested heavily in the partnership philosophy of the department.”

While overall crime is down, however, homicides jumped to six in 2010. “That [number]  is three to four more than we have experienced on average in the City of Evanston at least in the time period I have been here. And we have homicide statistics readily available going back to 1980,” said Chief Eddington.

Referring to the gun battle among teenagers on Davis Street in August, Chief Eddington said, “An act of violence in public places [is] really shocking to your readers and the citizens of Evanston. I understand the newsworthy nature of these events,” he said, “And there’s been an uptick in those violent events.

“One of the victims of [the Davis Street shooting] was subsequently arrested for discharging a firearm down along Howard Street, and my point in bringing this up is that there is a lifestyle involving gang affiliation and the buying and selling of drugs exponentially increases the chances of your being shot or killed, versus the average Evanstonian. This is a difficult, sensitive matter, but personal decisions have an impact on personal safety. And as I look down the list of the six homicides that we’re discussing … of the six, four, definitely, have drug-related overtones.”

The Chief paused when asked what the Department could do to prevent such outbursts of violence. “Unfortunately one of the things that we’re dancing around on … is [ascertaining] how behavior became acceptable at least to some portion of our society,” the Chief said. “This department is extremely professional at dealing with crime – the suppression of it and the solving of it, the identification of offenders, and the ability to bring those offenders to the bar of justice. I don’t know that the underlying issues are addressable by the police.”

Chief Eddington continued, “Everybody expects the chief of police to say that violence is unacceptable. … The people in the neighborhoods have to say violence unacceptable and engage in activities that show that it’s unacceptable – activities that will make it clear that there’s level of conduct that is expected and certain actions and activities are unacceptable in the neighborhood.”

Investigation Update

Of the six 2010 homicide cases, arrests have been made in two: the Marcus Davis case and the David Branch stabbing. (See story on page 1.) Chief Eddington calls the Marcus Davis case “almost a continuing feud between two families.” 

As for the other four cases, Chief Eddington said, “All of these are active ongoing investigations, and frankly, we have working theories of who was involved, why they were involved, and from those theories we are working on developing evidence and information that will eventually lead to arrests in these cases. It’s difficult … amassing enough evidence in cases to bring charges.”

All of the people in those four murders identified internally by the police as “persons of interest” Chief Eddington calls “experienced criminals: They know the rules, they know how important it is for them not to give statements. We’ve heard from several people, extremely recently, that [the possible suspects] are avid viewers of [the A&E true crime show] the First 48. … They are savvy, sophisticated opponents and well-schooled in how the American criminal justice system works.”

In discussing ongoing investigations, Chief Eddington reiterated his caution against the gang and drug lifestyle. “The risk of being harmed goes up exponentially if you are involved in gangs or drugs, because the people you are interacting with are experienced criminals who are not going to just happen to mention to the first policeman who comes along that they have done something wrong,” he said.

The Chief says he remains confident each case will be solved. “The example I often use in these matters is, if you go back to the time of the Romans, we’re the siege engineers,” he said. “We’re going to pile enough rocks up in front of your castle wall that we’re going to get over it. It’s going to take us a while to pile up enough rocks, but we’re getting it.”

To bolster his point, he mentioned the August 2009 murder of Helder Torres. The police recently uncovered a suspected murder weapon, he said. A large undercover operation undertaken with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, he suspects, has resulted in the incarceration of several persons of interest.

“This is a very difficult thing to say, but if those violent offenders are in jail for anything, the chances of somebody else getting killed in Evanston go way down. That’s just the way it is,” he said. “This is an extremely volatile topic, and I’m extremely guarded in my comments in the context of – we need to slowly come to grips with this.  I don’t want to leave the impression … that we’re cavalierly rounding up people and incarcerating them  for whatever [reason]  – that’s not how the system works.”

He added, though, that for most suspects, interviewees and persons of interest [in these crimes], this is “not the first brush with the criminal justice system. … And so now you have sophisticated repeat criminals involved with violent acts.”

Advice from the Chief: Be Careful – 
     And Call the Police

Although the crime rate has dropped, robberies still occur, particularly near CTA stations or late at night when victims are out walking alone. Chief Eddington urged citizens to be cautious and aware.

“It’s kind of a common-sense thing, and I realize that it’s not always possible. But if you do find yourself out walking around, that’s not a good time to check your e-mail. Don’t be on your cell phone. You have to be situationally aware of your surroundings. … If somebody’s hanging around in a bad spot, there’s no rule that says you have to go directly to your car and engage with these people. Walk away. Walk away. … It’s just that – situational awareness and listening to that little voice will serve you well.”

Promotions and Technology

Chief Eddington says he expects the surveillance cameras approved by City Council during the summer to come on line in early 2011. “The level of sophistication and technology in three-plus years and how the cost of the technology has come down is phenomenal,” he said, adding that the clarity of the digital recordings is “amazing.”

“Our next big internal technology issue is mobile field-reporting,” he added. “The ability of our officers to type the reports in their squad cars so they remain in the field rather than coming back to the station will increase office availability and minimize the down time.”

The Chief said the department will also follow closely an emerging technique known as “predictive analysis. …Chicago, and Memphis and Los Angeles are spending a considerable amount of time on this. … We will look at what they’re doing and see if we can replicate it at some level; see if it’s suitable for the City of Evanston at this time,” he said.

More community policing under the SNAP program may be coming soon. “There are several other areas that are under review that those efforts are in their infancy.” He said Officer Noble has identified at least two other areas that the department is considering.

Personnel changes are also in the works. With the retirement of Deputy Chief Demtrius Cook, promotions are coming, and with them a different management style will come into play, the Chief said. “Deputy Chief Cook was in my opinion not able to be replaced. … The organization will have to work collectively very hard to fill the void his retirement has created.” He added, “Some commanders will get to be deputy chief, some sergeants will get to be commander, and one police officer will be promoted to sergeant.

Evanston Man Charged in Dec. 21 Stabbing Death

A 26-year-old Evanston man has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of Evanston resident David Branch, also 26, said Tom Guenther, public information officer of the Evanston Police Department.

On Dec. 21 at 8:39 p.m., Evanston police officers responded to a 911 call that a man was down and bleeding at 2120 Seward St. Police located Mr. Branch, who had sustained four stab wounds to his right upper leg. Mr. Branch was unconscious from loss of blood, said Cmdr. Guenther. Evanston paramedics treated and transported Mr. Branch to a local hospital, where he died.

Evanston police detectives, working with the North Regional Major Crimes Task Force, learned that Mr. Branch had gone to 2120 Seward to visit a friend, said Cmdr. Guenther. As the evening progressed, both Mr. Branch and his friend began to drink alcohol. Detectives learned that a dispute arose between Mr. Branch and his friend, which escalated into a physical confrontation, and the stabbings, said the Commander.

The friend has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, and on Dec. 23 bond was set at $2 million, said the Commander. A court date is set for Jan. 11.

This was the sixth homicide of 2010.