The Citizens Network of Protection (CNP), a group of Evanston residents, sponsored the first in a series of meetings to talk about community oversight of Evanston police on Aug. 19 at Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, 1823 Church St. Betty Ester facilitated the meeting, at which Emmanuel Andre, an attorney focusing on juvenile justice, Austin Spillar, a third-year law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and Carliss Sutton, a resident of Evanston’s Fifth Ward, were panel members. Eight community members attended.

The stated mission of CNP is “to establish a system to provide a shield for all citizens, with particular emphasis upon citizens of Black and Latino descent, from harassment, maltreatment, physical harm and other forms of police misconduct.”

To accomplish its mission, CNP says it will establish education programs and prepare materials to inform all citizens of their rights under law, and inform them how to handle themselves during routine traffic stops or similar stops by police officers. CNP says it will also seek to establish an independent civilian police review board to investigate complaints against police officers and, if appropriate, to recommend sanctions.

 “Evanston is only one incident away from Ferguson, Baltimore, or Milwaukee,” said Mr. Sutton. “The same conditions – high unemployment, high drop-out rates – there are all kinds of indicators here that will lead to this. The only thing that keeps us from getting to that breaking point are meetings like the one we’re having right here this evening.”

One issue that Mr. Sutton raised was the basis for police stops. He said he has posed this question to police officers: “What will get you to get out of your car and stop a young man at the corner of Church and Dodge?” He said, “None of them could give me an example of what they were looking for to stop and frisk. And that concerned me. … Eventually they said they were looking for weapons and they were looking for other things. But I said the kinds of youth that you’ve been stopping and picking up have no weapons, and no concern of criminal activity.

“What you have done is you’ve made our community very paranoid, and we do not think of you as Officer Friendly. We think of you as an officer that might harm us. That’s one of the things we as a group here can work on.”

Mr. Sutton said he tells youth if they are stopped by police to ask, “Why are you stopping me?” He said, though, that he also tells youth that if they are stopped, they should not be a Smart Aleck and not be aggressive. He says CNP can educate youth on how they should respond to police, while being “respectful of the awesome job that police do in protecting our community and the citizens.”

He suggested that police are stopping some youth without a basis for doing so; he cited one incident in which police brought two youth into the police station, even though they did not match the description of an alleged suspect; and he questioned what happens when police verbally mistreat youth during a stop.

One strategy the Evanston Police Department has used to curb violence in Evanston is stop-and-frisk. “Before an officer stops somebody, they have to be able to articulate why they did it and have reasoning behind it,” Commander Joe Dugan of the Evanston Police Department, told the RoundTable in an earlier interview. “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.

“The stop-and-frisk has to be developed on a stand-alone reasonable suspicion to engage that person,” emphasized Police Chief Richard Eddington. “But we’re going to be more aware of those people [engaged in violent activities] and aware of developing that reasonable suspicion to stop them.”

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

At the Aug. 19 forum, Mr. Spillar said he has reviewed models adopted by cities throughout the country to investigate police misconduct and that the “strongest” is a draft model prepared by the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, together with other groups, that would establish a Civilian Police Accountability Council in Chicago (Chicago CPAC). Under the draft, members of the Chicago CPAC would be elected; they would have the power to appoint the superintendent of police and to adopt guidelines, such as on the use of force; they would have authority to set priorities; they would have the responsibility to investigate complaints of police misconduct and would have subpoena powers; and they would render decisions on an appropriate sanction for misconduct, including bringing an indictment for misconduct.

Mr. Spillar said the Chicago CPAC is “the only model that truly gives the power back to the communities to have a say in how they’re policed. It gives the communities a true say in holding the police accountable and investigating police misconduct. It actually has teeth.”

Ms. Ester said CNP has looked at CPAC, as well as models adopted by other communities, and is in the process of preparing a draft proposal tailored for Evanston. She said the draft, which will contain some aspects of the Chicago CPAC model, will be presented at a subsequent meeting sponsored by CNP, at which it would seek input from the community. She said revised drafts may be reviewed at subsequent meetings for additional community input, and a final draft will be reviewed with the Police Chief.

Currently, the Evanston Police Department investigates complaints made against a police office and prepares a report which includes a summary of the allegations and statements made by the complainant, the accused officer, and witnesses, and includes additional evidence such as videos. The report also includes findings and a recommended disposition by a sergeant or commander, and the Police Chief approves or disapproves the disposition. 

Under a plan adopted by City Council on June 9, 2008, a Citizens Police Advisory Committee reviews the report, and is given an opportunity to provide their perspective and vote on the disposition. The citizen’s committee consists of nine persons, one from each ward, who are appointed by the Mayor and approved by City Council. Its role is advisory only; the Chief of Police makes the decision. 

The Human Services Committee of the City Council then reviews the report, and votes on whether to accept the disposition of each complaint.

A memo to City Council members that laid out the plan for the Citizen’s Police Advisory Committee said, “This proposal is viewed by the residents as an interim solution, i.e., as a bridge to an eventual fully-empowered citizens’ review board that is authorized by city ordinance.”

CNP says it will hold meetings at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month at Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St.

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...