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Recently Police Chief Richard Eddington was asked a series of questions about department policies and practices by a group of residents. Here are the questions and his answers:
1. How does the Evanston Police Department (EPD) screen for bias in the recruitment of officers?
The EPD has a robust recruit intake-system that involves an educational standard of 60 college credits, a background investigation, passing a written test, psychological testing and a polygraph test. The selection process concludes with an interview by the Evanston Civil Service Commission, a diverse group of Evanstonians who essentially evaluate the candidate on the basis of whether s/he is a person they would want to come to their residence to handle a crisis. The diversity of the commission’s membership is intended to safeguard against hiring individuals who display bias.
2. How does the EPD train officers to handle enforcement responsibilities in an unbiased manner?
This training is ongoing, throughout the officer’s career. The Cook County Sheriff’s Police, the training academy the EPD currently uses, are adept at instilling in recruits the need for unbiased policing. Further, the EPD retained Dr. Logan, an Evanstonian and an experienced trainer in race relations, to provide a customized training program (concluded within the past 60 days) for the department. The EPD also has availed itself of the U.S. Department of Justice’s procedural-justice training program. Concerned with fairness and transparency, procedural justice is premised upon the belief that fair procedures lead to higher quality interpersonal interactions—which speaks directly to police legitimacy, the concept that quality policing cannot be achieved unless the community endorses (legitimizes) the police’s enforcement role/authority. EPD officers have attended the Chicago Police Department’s version of this training and several have themselves become trainers in the discipline.
3. How does the EPD train officers to handle high-risk concealed-carry interactions?
The EPD is proficient in dealing with firearm-related incidents and has devoted a great deal of time to concealed-carry based upon the relatively recent change in Illinois law. No incidents regarding concealed-carry holders have gone awry, a fact significantly attributable to departmental restraint. To be perfectly frank, there have been several offenders who legally could have been shot, but were tased instead. Since September 2015 the EPD has seized 71 illegal firearms, suggesting that illegal firearms present more of a hazard than concealed-carry.
4. How does the EPD monitor police practices to ensure that non-biased treatment of citizens is the norm?
The concept that officers are responsible for their actions is reinforced with officers on a daily basis. Further, because Evanston is a small city in many respects, the police are not strangers to the community, so our actions are scrutinized by residents who know who they are. Additionally, we have a robust intake procedure for complaints. We accept all complaints, anonymous or not, and investigate all of them. Our investigation is thorough, as the officers are well aware. This serves as a check-and-balance on officers’ conduct. Please take a moment and view the Human Services Committee packet, posted online. That committee’s meetings always include a review of complaints by citizens against the police. Further, the meetings are televised by the City, which I think is a rather unique level of transparency in dealing with concerns about police conduct.
5. What is the EPD’s record of adhering to acceptable practices? What are the legal fees and judgments paid out by the EPD as the result of policing practices’ violations? How does this compare with similar communities?
The Law and Police Departments work collaboratively to maintain cost-effective and constitutionally compliant law enforcement practices. In the very early stages of a case’s being filed or threatened against the City/Police Department, the Law Department evaluates the Plaintiff’s cause of action and, with good cause shown, typically defends the vast majority of police suits filed, up to and including trial. This is totally unlike the general practice of other municipalities, most of which try to settle every case brought against them. Similarly, the City’s Law Department litigates on average approximately 85% of all cases in-house, the City’s Law Department litigates on average approximately 85% of all cases in-house again unlike the majority of other municipalities, which contract with outside law firms on litigation. The City’s in-house approach has saved millions of dollars in outside legal fees avoided since 2010.
Relative to civil rights or police practice claims brought against the City, from 2010 to the current day the City’s won/loss record in State and Federal Courts is 16/2. Of the 16 victories, three were jury verdicts in favor of the City. The remaining 13 victories were won through dismissal, summary judgment, or voluntary dismissal of the case by the Plaintiff. Several times the City’s victories have been noted on the front page of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
The three jury verdicts included one where the jury needed to deliberate only 15 minutes before finding in favor of the City. Another was for an auto accident—judgment and costs $277,000. The third was for $48,000 in total fees and costs, far below the Plaintiff’s ask of $250,000.
Comparisons with other communities can be difficult, most particularly because comparable communities retain outside counsel to defend police-related litigation. However, The Better Government Association in 2014 took a look at all Cook County municipalities and published a lengthy report, available at its website.
6. Do EPD officers wear body cameras?
Not at present. This is a complex issue, and one which I believe will elicit spirited discussion within the City of Evanston. As a user of police videos for more than 25 years, I know that cameras are exceptional collectors of evidence and will result in more offenders going to jail than officers being disciplined. That having been said, I believe there are significant issues that need to be discussed. First there is the cost of cameras within the context of Illinois law. Currently we are responsible for supplying videos requested through FOIA inquiries. Body cameras will substantially increase this item in the Police Department’s budget. We estimate start-up costs for a body-camera system to be in the area of $600,000 – a significant portion of which will be continuing personnel costs, driven by the current state statute that mandates how videos are released via Freedom of Information requests. Other chilling effects on many Illinois police agencies is the fact that the data-storage is cost prohibitive and the need to produce and redact videos is a substantial undertaking which many police chiefs are reluctant to engage in. Further, the Illinois statute is somewhat poorly worded. Specifically, there is a phrase that describes a reasonable expectation of privacy. This particular area of law is not well defined and, I imagine, there will be much case law regarding it. Based upon advice of the City’s corporation counsel, we find it prudent to allow other municipalities to expend resources to have that refined via court decision, rather than ourselves hastily jumping into body cameras at this time.
7. What kind of reporting to the community on standards and on the record of performance is regularly provided? What is being planned?
As to “regularly provided,” the EPD is a remarkably transparent organization. Please take a moment to look online at our annual reports. They delve into the performance of the department, including complaints against officers. That information is available for public viewing. Further, I would encourage you to read the City’s online press releases, among which “In the Squad Room” is weekly included. “In the Squad Room” provides a nuts-and-bolts insight into EPD operations. Lastly, I would encourage you to avail yourself of the EPD’s tuition-free, 12-week Citizen Police Academy, which provides 32 hours of extensive insight into the operations of the Police Department, and the caliber of the men and women who serve and protect the Evanston community. In closing, I invite you to become an active participant in shaping the direction of the Evanston Police Department by participating in the Citizen Police Advisory Committee, a group that meets with me quarterly to discuss current police events and practices, as well as activities projected for the future.
Thank you for taking the time to review this response. Should it produce further questions and/or should you wish to participate in the Citizen Police Advisory Committee, please feel free to contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 847-866-5005.