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The word “encounter” means to meet unexpectedly, to meet as an adversary, or to meet by chance in conflict. For the Evanston Police Department (EPD), all three definitions fit, and they frequently define how citizens perceive the police and vice versa.

At the EPD, encounters begin with a phone call or a police observation of what appears to be questionable behavior.

Phone calls seeking police presence can vary widely. Police are asked to respond to burglaries, battery and domestic disagreements, to name a few of the more serious incidents. They also make service calls to rescue a pet that is stuck somewhere or to remove a skunk that has claimed squatter’s rights in someone’s home.

Regardless of severity, for any encounter between police and citizens to be a positive experience, communication is vital. Officers need people to talk to them and point them in the right direction. When the police arrive at a scene, assume they are not fully informed and try to provide as much information as possible.

The street stop is one type of encounter. This often occurs when police have received a physical description of a subject wanted for questioning about a crime. Even if a person matches the description by coincidence and is questioned by officers, the police will realize, after some cooperation on the part of the innocent person, that they are looking for someone else and continue their search. If a bystander wants to be certain that the officer does not violate a person’s rights, approaching the officer while he or she is focused on someone else is not recommended. Officers want to be safe while performing their duties. A citizen who approaches an officer while they are performing their duties may become part of the situation. It is best to stay back and let the officer work, then register a complaint to the EPD later.

Out of all the encounters between the EPD and the public, the most common is the traffic stop. When pulled over, if the person’s attitude is “why are you bothering me?” or “you just ruined my day,” obviously this does not set up the encounter for a pleasant result. This need not be the case, however, if the motorist would simply remember that the police are just doing their jobs, and the traffic stop was caused by something the motorist did or failed to do.

During a traffic stop, the police officer approaching the car never knows what the motorist’s reaction will be. So for safety reasons, a stop is usually covered by at least two officers. The police are well aware that this can be intimidating, but it is required should a “routine” traffic stop escalate. In order to make the traffic stop as stress free as possible, there are a few things to remember:

Traffic stops are not racial profiling. Whether a traffic stop or a more serious incident, the police have noticed something and are obligated, and expected, to act.

The best (and easiest) thing to do when stopped by police is to follow their directives.

Almost all traffic stops are recorded, both audio and video, as a matter of EPD policy.

If during any encounter with the police, someone feels they have been unfairly singled out or mistreated, there is recourse. Contact an EPD supervisor or the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) to register a complaint. Contrary to what some may think, if the facts and contact information are provided, the effort will not be a waste of time. The EPD will listen, will take the necessary action to correct anything needed to be addressed, and will work to resolve the complaint.

Until next time – “Let’s be careful out there.”