Recent thefts of alcohol from the local Dominick’s store by young people are a problem, said Police Chief Richard Eddington. He had been invited to the June 8 meeting of the West Village Business Association to address business owners’ concerns about a proposed police outpost that Dominick’s has requested within its store in Evanston Plaza, Dempster Street at Dodge Avenue.

The store has reported a number of thefts and injuries to its security staff. Security tapes and other information point to a significant number of thefts of alcohol by high school-aged youth, he said, many of them occurring in the hours immediately after school.

Prevention of these thefts is key, Chief Eddington said. “In my opinion what’s best for the kids is deterrence of theft of liquor. Society has a responsibility to protect kids. That’s the genesis of this [discussion and proposal]. … If we can prevent crime, then we’re way ahead.” He also said Dominick’s “is at that upper level of concern because of injuries to its employees; it has a moral responsibility to employees who get hurt.”

The company’s response is to propose a police outpost – in this case, a desk, a sign and a telephone – at which Evanston police officers can stop and complete their paperwork. A police officer in the outpost would be “to prevent shoplifting, not to arrest shoplifters,” said Chief Eddington. The goal of having a police outpost within the store is crime prevention, he said. Only if there were an immediate danger would the police take action within the store.

Key to Safety?

Though holding what appeared to be the minority position, some of those who attended the June 8 meeting said the outpost is the key to safety.

Cindy Jevon, owner of Perfical Sense Studio, said she would use the police outpost at Howard Street as an example. “Howard Street has changed itself completely.” She said she thought the outpost functions most often as a community center, and that the proposed outpost at Dominick’s would be “just a temporary thing.”

“The problem is not just at Dominick’s,” said Dari Reynolds, referring to the recent shooting of an Evanston Township High School student at the nearby McDonald’s. “If there was a presence that could prevent injury. If a police presence [is here] the crime rate goes down. … To me, that’s safety.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, in whose Second Ward the plaza lies, appeared supportive of the proposed outpost for safety reasons. “The safety of the neighborhood is important. … In terms of Dominick’s – if anyone gets hurt, I see that as an issue of the Ward.” He said the police department has a summer deployment that begins about the time schools let out for the summer, which might prove a useful model for the neighborhood.

Indicator of Trouble?

Many members of the West Village Association who attended the June 8 meeting said they opposed the outpost for fear that it would disrupt the character of the neighborhood as well as the comfort of shopping at Dominick’s. Some also said they objected to having public money spent for what seemed to them added security for a private business. Some said they would support an increased or more visible police presence in the plaza itself but objected to the in-store outpost.

Bea Rashid, director of Dance Center Evanston, said she did not wish to see a strong police presence in the store itself. “When I see police, I think trouble,” she said. She also said security guards contribute to a more comfortable atmosphere. Heartwood owner Nancy Floy said, “A police presence at Dominick’s [would be] bad for the neighborhood [and would] create a presence of fear.” Artist Gay Riseborough said that it would be difficult to explain the outpost to her grandchildren.

But most of those who said they were opposed to the outpost said they would like to see something done to increase safety and reduce thefts. Several offered alternative suggestions. Ms. Rashid said the liquor department at Dominick’s is very close to the door and suggested that Dominick’s reconfigure it.

Ms. Floy said that more private security would benefit the store. Dickelle Fonda reiterated the suggestions of Ms. Rashid and Ms. Floy and added ending liquor sales, retraining security and increasing police presence throughout the neighborhood. Mrs. Fonda said there has never been a police outpost in a private business in Evanston and that establishing one now would set a “dangerous precedent.”

As owner of the Heartwood Center, Ms. Floy showed concern for the 500 customers that visit the center each week, many traveling from the north and west suburbs. She said she tells her customers how safe she feels in this neighborhood, so she said “How will it look if there’s an outpost? If it is so safe, why [does Dominick’s] need an outpost? I’m not anti-police, I just oppose the outpost.” She also said that theft is an internal problem, so Dominick’s should handle it. A police outpost would involve the entire community, she said. Ms. Floy supported the other possible solutions for the problem at Dominick’s, and said she agreed especially with an increase of police presence throughout the neighborhood. “The Heartwood Center already has a positive experience with Evanston police, and would like to continue that.”

Dominick’s ‘Excited’ About

‘EPD Sub-Station’

Ms. Fonda said no one from Dominick’s had responded to requests from the neighbors for information. Lauri Sanders, public relations specialist for Dominick’s, responded by email to a request by the RoundTable for information about the numbers of thefts and injuries, the desirability for an outpost and the prospect of working with neighbors for an alternate resolution. Dominick’s “official response,” Ms. Sanders said, is as follows: “Dominick’s is very excited about this community-protection concept. This facility will be beneficial to the entire community, not just Dominick’s or the Evanston Plaza shopping area; and it is being done in response to the criminal activity in the region, not just our store. We are working in partnership with the Evanston Police Department to help them better serve the needs of this neighborhood. The concept of having a dedicated space adjacent to or within our stores for use by local law enforcement is not new to Dominick’s or Safeway [parent company of Dominick’s].

“We have done this in a number of communities around the country where Safeway operates … “The presence of this facility won’t change our security measures, they will remain, but we are willing to invest our resources in this effort because we feel that it will help the community, and it is just one of the ways in which we demonstrate our responsibility as a corporate citizen in the city of Evanston.”

Next Steps

Chief Eddington and Ms. Floy both said Evanston police and business owners have cooperated with each other in previous matters of violence among youth. They spoke about police intervention that reduced the youth violence in front of Taco Bell in downtown Evanston and Ms. Floy’s Heartwood Center. The past solutions did not include a police outpost, but did have a police component.

Chief Eddington said he would be “more than willing to slow down” the process to establish the police outpost but urged the residents to speak with Bob Devereaux, the store manager. He said he would cooperate with residents but remained firm that the problem is in part a matter for the police because of the illegal activities.

“[The outpost] is not for the sole benefit of Dominick’s. What is more significant for us is the antisocial acts by our young people. I don’t want to arrest kids for underage drinking. … I’m trying every day to keep kids out of trouble. Please come to where I’m going: There’s going to be a police component [in the resolution of this issue]. I want it to be palatable to you.”

Ms. Floy said “I trust that Chief Eddington will continue to listen to the community… [And] I respect other businesses who want it [the outpost], but I feel that it is unnecessary.”