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The Evanston Police Department has implemented a two-pronged violence-reduction strategy targeting areas in the City where gun violence has recently erupted. Under the strategy, police officers will try to get guns off the street and become more acquainted with residents in the areas.
Although Evanston had a quiet summer, in the past few weeks, the Dodge/Emerson area has seen several shootings and there have been calls of “shots fired.” At the Fifth Ward meeting on Sept. 17, Police Officer Kyle Wideman said that between Aug. 20 and Sept. 15, there were 22 calls to the police about “shots fired,” 11 of which came from the Fifth Ward.
The Police Department will use HEAT maps that show the spots where violence has been most intense to determine where to deploy two members of the Neighborhood Enforcement Team (N.E.T.) and Tactical Unit (TAC) each day. They will be “specifically assigned to work at recovering firearms,” according to a statement from the police.
Members of N.E.T. and TAC “are highly trained and have an exhaustive knowledge of individuals involved in the ongoing conflicts in our community,” the statement said, and they “will utilize investigative techniques such as confidential informants, tips, monitoring social media as well as investigative stops to focus on known firearm offenders.”
Further, the Problem-Solving Team (P.S.T.) and Foot Patrol members will use the same HEAT maps to determine where to actively engage residents, both to develop information and to allay concerns about gun-related incidents. P.S.T. and Foot Patrol officers will conduct knock- and-talks at residences; visit businesses, schools, parks, places of worship; and take advantage of any other location where they can make contact with citizens who have direct concerns about gun-related crime, the statement said.
At the Sept. 17 Fifth Ward meeting, Deputy Police Chief James Pickett urged residents to call 911 when they see or hear criminal activity. “If you call 911 and don’t get what you want, call back and ask for a supervisor,” he said. Carolyn Murray, who runs parts of the Fifth Ward meetings, said, “The Chief [of police] made it clear: If it’s a firecracker, a gun or a bomb – call the police.”
Deputy Chief Pickett added that often the police response to a 911 call may not be immediately apparent in the area from where the call originated. “We have a certain way that we respond. We don’t always pull up to the address of the caller.”
Community policing, which the Evanston Police Department has followed for several decades, involves the police and the community working together to solve crimes.
“We do understand that, as an officer, you can’t have that connection in a patrol car – you can lose that connection. But sometimes there is a stack of calls, so police don’t always have time to be friendly. … We’re trying to re-establish … the trust [of the community],” said Deputy Chief Pickett. “Our main objective is to develop awareness of the social and economic underpinnings of the community,” he added.
The police department offers cultural sensitivity and diversity training twice a year, said the Deputy Chief.
“One of the biggest mistakes we have made is in de-escalation,” the Deputy Chief added. “An officer may do his job and not explain what he did or why. Our officers are trying to be more patient and explain to the public why they did what they did,” he added.
Concern about whether the police are doing enough to deter crime arose during citizen comment at the Sept. 21 City Council meeting. Ms. Murray was critical of people who have attributed many of the shootings over the past three years to a “family feud.” She said these statements are untrue, that they promote fear and they contribute to the violence.
Ms. Murray said she would like to see a “Citizens Advisory Committee to review complaints” about the stop-and-frisk program conducted by the City and a recent one conducted by the Cook County Sheriff’s police. In that stop-and-frisk program, conducted in early August on certain blocks of Howard Street, Custer Avenue and Hartrey Avenue, 17 people, including seven gang members, were arrested on charges of drug violations, for outstanding warrants, and other charges, Deputy Chief Pickett said at the Sept. 17 meeting.
At the City Council meeting, Sarita Smith, a Fifth Ward resident, asked whether there is a violence-interruption program in place and whether the Police Department is working with other agencies to stop crime.
The City’s Youth and Young Adult Division has staff in the neighborhoods who are reaching out to disengaged youth and youth who might be on the verge of turning to violence or crime, enticing them with “real jobs”, criminal records sealing and expungement programs, and programs of job-readiness training, education, mental health programs and alternative recreational activities.
Police often refer individuals needing services to the Youth and Young Adult Division Manager, Kevin Brown, who then assigns staff to the individual to meet their needs and connect them to resources.