Police Chief Richard Eddington sat down with the RoundTable recently to talk about the relatively quiet summer among the City’s youth, the violent crime that did occur, and a number of controversial issues such as police cameras and the police outpost in the Dominick’s food store at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.
There were no youth-on-youth homicides in Evanston over the summer, said Chief Eddington. Several factors, including programming offered by the City and the removal of several key players, helped keep the summer relatively quiet. “Parks and recreation efforts were significant in reducing youth-on-youth violence this summer,” he said.
Roller Skating at ‘Critical’ Times
At the direction of Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Chief Eddington said, the City asked people what they wanted to do. And it worked, he added. He said he “never would have guessed” that so many people would have wanted to roller skate. Open gym, roller skating, and other activities in the critical 6-9 p.m. time frame gave Evanston youth options, and they took advantage of them.
Good police work helped as well, said Chief Eddington. “Significant players have been identified and incarcerated,” he added, which also contributed to the drop in crime. This also helps explain a continuing drop in overall crime, down 3.8 percent year to date, on top of 12-15 percent drops the prior two years. “Theft is the most frequently occurring crime,” he said.
Cameras Aid in Solving Homicides
Nevertheless, there was a homicide in late May and another over the summer.
The Chief described two of the murders as robberies gone wrong, in which “a criminal decided to engage in criminal activity, with tragic consequences.” Leodis Blackburn, a cab driver, was killed while trying to escape an attempted robbery on Elmwood on May 15. John Costulas, a disabled man on his way to work, was killed when an assailant delivered “a forearm to the face,” and then robbed him. Neither started as an attempt to kill but in each case, tragically, death resulted.
Both murders were solved using a combination of surveillance camera footage and “old fashioned police work,” said Chief Eddington. Cameras provided a depiction of the actual crime on Howard Street, and the alleged murderer entering the victim’s cab in the Blackburn slaying, but the police (and NORTAF, the North Regional Major Crimes Task Force) “got to people” and led to arrests, he said.
The police department’s camera network is up and running and “additional grant money is being sought,” said Chief Eddington. Cameras have been “daisy- chained” together through wireless connectivity leading back to the main police station. The Chief said he is “extremely happy with the result.” The department will continue to expand the network, and to “map” private cameras in the City so that the department will know where to find the images it needs. The Costulas murder was captured by a private camera, for example, and the Blackburn image by a CTA camera.
Chief Eddington said cameras are not used for surveillance, and therefore concerns expressed by the ACLU really do not apply. “We don’t have the time, manpower or resources to [monitor people],” he said. The EPD uses cameras for “incident- and crime-specific endeavors,” he said.
The July 17 killing of Juan Sanchez, the result of a fight during a party on Dodge Avenue, occurred because of “silly conduct other people found to be offensive and [they] overreacted,” said the Chief. He called the crime “non-preventable by the police,” particularly when people engage in conduct “because they are alcohol-impaired.” Although the police were called to the party earlier in the evening because of noise disturbances, it was one of more than 40 noise-disturbance calls that night. “We show, up, they turn the music down, we leave,” he said. He called the crime “extremely difficult to deter.”
Outpost at Dominick’s
The crime took place close to the police outpost in the Evanston Plaza Dominick’s store on Dodge Avenue near Dempster Street. The outpost stirred significant controversy when it was proposed. Alcohol as a contributing factor was a primary reason that the Chief pushed for the outpost. “It is really about high school kids,” he said. Kids are not stealing steaks, but alcohol.
“With alcohol,” he said, “it becomes a community issue,” because the use of alcohol leads to multiple other problems and crimes. It is too early to tell if the outpost is working, he said, particularly since Dominick’s does not release “shrinkage” (general product lost to theft) information. Still the Chief says he believes in making every effort to keep alcohol out of the hands of high school kids.
EPD and ETHS
The Chief described the department’s relationship with ETHS as “extremely positive.” He is in regular contact with both Superintendant Eric Witherspoon and ETHS safety director Sam Pettineo (a 32-year veteran of the EPD) and says he believes the police help orchestrate the exit of the student body on a daily basis.
In September, when students were leaving school, a fight broke out and the police used a TASER in “taking who we believed to be the aggressor into custody,” said Chief Eddington. The Chief defended the use of the TASER, saying that if he were being arrested, of all the options the police have at their disposal, “If I had a choice I would pick the TASER. I have ridden the lightning several times in training.” The recovery time is far shorters than with other options.
He added, “We used to do this with fists and sticks and people lost teeth and broke eyeholes. The TASER allows us to take people into custody with less damage to the officer or the person,” he said.
Kids and Gangs
One concern about highschool kids is gang affiliation. The City is “enjoying a lull” in gang activity right now, Chief Eddington said, and “there are several reasons for that.” One reason is that the gang situation in Chicago is in flux, both on the enforcement side and the “which gang is dominant” side. The Chief wants to build on this lull and get to kids early.
Chief Eddington warned about changes that may be on the horizon. While many of what he calls the “significant players” have been taken off the street, “who stays incarcerated and who does not” is a question that has yet to be answered. State budget cuts will lead to the releasing of offenders and answer the question the Chief posed, “Who do we incarcerate and for how long?” The accused in the Blackburn murder, for example, was out on parole.
Chief Eddington says he hopes the City can continue to invest in youth, citing a study that found that $1 “invested at preschool age saves $7 to $8 in criminal justice expenses later… we need to be continually mindful of that [and] continue to invest in that age group.”