Since Jan. 1, there have been 10 incidents in which people have been shot in Evanston. There have been two fatalities, and a total of 10 persons wounded. Nine of the victims were 25 years old or younger. Six were in their teens. Most of the shootings have not been solved by bringing criminal charges.

The RoundTable interviewed Police Chief Richard Eddington, Commander Joseph Dugan and Commander Daniel Russell to obtain their perspective on why young people are resorting to violence with guns, on the key things the Evanston Police Department (EPD) is doing to curb the violence, and why many crimes go unsolved.

Two key ways in which the EPD is attempting to curb violence are through its Violence Reduction Strategy and its targeted deployment practices. In addition, the Problem Solving Team attempts to work with the community to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods.

The EPD’s activities are only one part of the City’s responses to violence, Chief Eddington told the RoundTable. They are part of an overall effort that includes the City’s Recreation Department, which has expanded evening activities for youth and young adults, and the outreach program of the City’s Youth and Young Adult Division.

The black dots on this map show shootings in which there was a homicide or person wounded during the period Jan. 1-June 20, 2016. The areas shaded in red, orange and yellow show the number of calls of shots fired, with red indicating a high number of calls, orange a moderate number, and yellow a low number. Calls of shots fired are not necessarily proven incidents of shots fired.

Why All the Shootings?

Some of the drivers of today’s violence were not here 10 years ago, said Chief Eddington.

“On a macro-level,” he said, “I want to highlight some of the comments that Superintendent Johnson [of the Chicago Police Department] made. You have a gang structure that’s completely different. Back in the day when Jeff Forte was running one of the major gangs, there was a chain of command. Now with all the gangs being broken up and fractionalized, it’s kind of a free-for-all. And one of the things that exacerbate that free-for-all is social media. Back in the day, if you and I had an argument and we called each other nasty names, depending on who was in the room, maybe only you knew about it. Now, it’s on social media and the world knows about it.

“If I’m calling you out, you’ve got to do something about it. If you let me get away disrespecting you, you lose face. That’s a huge driver of interpersonal violence.”

Chief Eddington emphasized, though, that there are not “a large number of people engaging in this conduct. I think it’s a relatively small group that’s taking the step to shoot somebody else. Unfortunately it has a huge impact on the community as a whole.”

As an example, the Chief said he thinks two recent shooting incidents arose out of one youth’s changing gang affiliations and retaliation.

Cmdr. Russell said a few members of a Chicago gang have recently moved into Evanston and there has been “back and forth” between established gang members here in Evanston and members of the Chicago gang that moved here. “That’s a big driver of what we’re seeing. That’s caused, from my perspective, several of the shootings there in the West end.

 “We’re well aware of the people who are involved in the shootings,” Cmdr. Russell added. But it appears the information the EPD currently has is not sufficient to make an arrest or bring criminal charges.

“Typically what we see in all these instances when they shoot each other is they are not interested in pursuing criminal charges as you and I would think. They prefer to handle it on their own. They may know who the shooter is,” said Cmdr. Russell, but “A lot of people who are being shot are not willing to come forward and say ‘Larry is the one who shot me.’ Without that type of information, typically the States Attorney is not willing to go forth with any criminal prosecution.”

There are about 10 gangs and approximately 500 documented gang members in Evanston, said Chief Eddington. 

Stop and Frisk/Removing Guns from the Street

In May 2013, the EPD implemented a targeted stop-and-frisk program. Under stop-and-frisk, as stated by the U.S. Supreme Court, The police can stop and briefly detain a person for  investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity ‘may be afoot,’ even if the officer lacks probable cause.”

“Before an officer stops somebody, they have to be able to articulate why they did it and have reasoning behind it,” said Commander Dugan. “It’s not just like following someone around until he doesn’t turn his turn signal on, and then let’s stop him. It’s not like that kind of activity.”

The stop-and-frisk program became more focused in September 2015, when the Violence Reduction Program was initiated. Under that program, police officers, primarily those in the Special Operations Unit, target areas in the City where violence has occurred and areas frequented by known gang members in an effort to take illegal guns off the streets, said the EPD when the program started.

In addition, the EPD uses 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 night, said Cmdr. Dugan. They concentrate on individuals who have been identified as being involved in shooting activities or gang-type activities. The NET/TAC patrol is specifically assigned to work at recovering firearms, together with the Special Operations Unit.

 “We spend a lot of resources identifying the individuals that are engaged in this armed conflict, and we’re cautious about how we identify the people we’re in search of,” said Chief Eddington. “We have a relatively sophisticated intelligence-gathering system. There’s a lot of stuff out there on social media that backs up and verifies the street-level intelligence we’re gathering.”

“We make sure that the police officers are aware of this information,” said the Chief. “We don’t need to be stopping everybody. We need to be focused on people that are involved in this armed conflict.”

“The stop-and-frisk has to be developed on a stand-alone reasonable suspicion to engage that person,” emphasized the Chief. “But we’re going to be more aware of those people and aware of developing that reasonable suspicion to stop them.

“Assigning officers primarily from the Special Operations Unit, who are intimately familiar with those involved in the armed conflicts, has kept the stop-and-frisk program on the straight and narrow,” said the Chief. “I think this has kept the stop-and-frisk relatively acceptable in the community, because we have been relatively successful in not reeling in too many dolphins in our tuna net.”

Since September 2015, the EPD has taken 71 illegal firearms off the streets, said Cmdr. Dugan.

“If you look at the gun recoveries, we’re pretty focused on the right people,” said the Chief. “Most of the people that we have arrested and charged with firearms offenses have a history of some criminal endeavors. … Often they are on parole or on probation status.”

Taking guns off the street is “a significant step in the violence reduction,” said Chief Eddington. “If we’ve got the gun, and they don’t, they’re not going to be able to use it. The concept that guns are easily replaceable – it’s not that easy. We’re taking a tool out of their tool box that’s difficult to replace.” He said the gun can be replaced, but it takes time and money.

“Through this war of attrition, we’re trying to make it too expensive and too risky for them to carry a gun,” said the Chief. If a 17-year old leaves a gun at home because it might be confiscated by the police, or because the youth might be arrested for carrying an illegal weapon, then the program has a desired deterrent effect because many shootings are through “chance encounters,” he said.

As an example, “two rival gangs” ended up at the same spot of lakefront area on July 4 to watch the fireworks. The Chief said it took “very nice work by a large number of police officers to defuse things and keep the public safe.” The police did not find any guns on anyone.

“If we suppress illegal gun-carrying, we’re suppressing the probability that you’ll have a gun and make poor decisions,” he said.

At the Police Awards Ceremony on May 12, policemen in the Special Operations Unit received a Commendation for their work in making arrests for gun-related offenses and taking guns off the street. Members of the unit are shown with Police Chief Eddington and Mayor Tisdahl.

Deployment Strategies

The EPD’s deployment strategy is the second key component of reducing violence and crime in the City, said Chief Eddington.

Cmdr. Dugan runs deployment meetings every week, and commanders from every shift and every unit, deputy chiefs, and supervisors attend the meeting. The group reviews data put together by an intelligence officer and a crime analyst who gather data from the prior week, including information in crime reports, information gathered by police officers from the community, anonymous tips, informants, social media, and information from other communities and from prisons.

They also prepare “HEAT maps” that illustrate for each shift where burglaries, shootings, calls of shots fired and man with a gun, and other crimes occurred.

At the meetings, the participants talk about what they did in the prior week and discuss crime trends and patterns and decide where to deploy manpower during the next week to suppress crimes.

Cmdr. Dugan said if there is pattern of burglaries occurring in a certain area at a certain time of day, police officers may be assigned to that area during that timeframe.

If a shooting has occurred, the department may deploy police officers to monitor the area where the shooting occurred, but in addition police officers may be deployed to an area where the department anticipates there might be retaliatory shootings. The department may use unmarked cars or highly visible patrols, or park the police van with cameras in a certain area, or send the Problem Solving Team to go door-to-door in an area.

 The collection of information about who is on whose side and who is involved in criminal activities, and then using that information in deploying police officers is “critical in suppressing the opportunities for retaliation,” said Chief Eddington.

Even if the information is not enough to justify criminal charges, the information may help to prevent another crime.

Problem Solving Team

“The Problem Solving Team is not so much an enforcement effort,” as it is an effort “to reach out to the community,” said Cmdr. Dugan.  He said police officers in the team work with aldermen, visit places of worship, go to parks, attend community meetings, and after shootings they may go door to door to develop information about the shootings and to listen to people’s concerns. 

The team has a Commander, a sergeant, nine police officers, and two foot patrol officers. 

“To paraphrase the mission of the Problem Solving Team, not every police action has to end up with handcuffs,” said Chief Eddington. “They’re out in the community, engaged with the community to literally solve the problem before it escalates to 911 calls in a traditional police response.”

They engage with the alderman on long-term issues, and the alderman can bring long-term issues to the department’s attention. “They build a rapport that allows them to work through the long-term issues of the community.”

As an example, Chief Eddington said after the shootings in Smith Park, the Problem Solving Team met with several senior citizens who neighbors said were intimidated by the violence. The officers gave them options and told them how to contact the EPD anonymously. “Unless we were out there and engaged with the neighbors, we wouldn’t know there were several senior citizens who were almost shut-ins following the shootings in Smith Park.

“It’s that kind of action and activities that the Problem Solving Team is engaged in to try to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood,” Chief Eddington said.

The Chief added that at times a youth who is a member of a gang “wants out.” Sometimes the Problem Solving Team has suggested to families that “perhaps a relocation is in order.” If families are interested, the EPD has referred them to the City’s Youth and Young Adult Division, which has resources to provide job training and placement and relocation.

“Not being here is the solution for some of those young men,” said the Chief.

At times, individual police officers who have a relationship with people in the community may reach out to them in an effort to prevent violence. Recently, police officers convinced someone who was thinking about retaliating against a person rumored to be a shooter not to do it. A different person was subsequently charged with the offense. 

Crimes Solved

Of the ten shooting incidents that have occurred since Jan. 1, the EDP has obtained a murder warrant in one homicide, and charges have been filed in another shooting. Chief Eddington said the department is close to filing charges in the second homicide.  

As to the other seven incidents, the Chief said, “Generally there’s a lack of cooperation of witnesses, and sometimes the victim doesn’t know.”

Cmdr. Russell said a lot of shooting victims do not want to cooperate because they prefer “to handle it on their own.”

 “It’s like, ‘We’re wimps if we let you guys handle it, we’ll handle it,’” said Chief Eddington, adding that gang members are concerned that if they talk to the police, someone may talk to the police about them.

Another factor is civilian witnesses are often afraid to come forward and talk to police “because they’re worried about retaliation against themselves and their families,” said Cmdr. Russell.

“These are significant drivers why there’s relatively few gang related prosecutions,” said the Chief. He added that the State’s Attorneys Office’s current guidelines require two corroborating witnesses. “They’re really reluctant to take a case based on the testimony of an identified gang member,” he said.

Even so, Cmdr. Dugan said he thinks more witnesses are providing basic information about what happened and a description of the offender. He also said the EPD is getting more anonymous tips.

Building Trust

The EPD is built on a model of community policing and all police officers attempt to build trust with the community through that model, said Cmdr. Dugan.

Chief Eddington added another dimension. “The transparency that the citizens of Evanston enjoy is a world class standard. You’re not going to find any other place that has a Human Services Committee that reviews on TV allegations of police misconduct.  … That transparency is key to trust.”

He added that the EPD’s annual report, which is posted online, contains many of the things that President Barak Obama asked police departments to do as part of 21st Century Policing. “We’re way ahead of the law enforcement community.”

In addition, the newspaper USA did a study showing that only 1% of the police departments in the nation match the demographics of the community they serve, and EPD is one of those departments. 

A Coordinated Effort

Chief Eddington emphasized that the City is actively attempting to curb violence in other ways. The City’s Parks and Recreation Department has expanded recreation activities into the evening hours. In addition, the City’s Youth and Young Adult Division has an outreach team that acts as “violence interrupters,” and the team manages the Mayor’s Summer Job Program and a round-the-year job program. “Those jobs have a significant impact on the level of violence,” he said.

 “There’s a mosaic of efforts, and they’re coordinated in monthly meetings with the Mayor and the other departments that are engaged directly in these efforts to make sure the efforts are coordinated,” said Chief Eddington. “It’s that type of mosaic, all those things going on, that are contributing to the reduction of violence.” 

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...