It appeared that many residents, including five aldermen, attended the Dec. 5 Human Services Committee with different expectations. While all of those expectations dealt with police-community relations, that part of the evening’s agenda – and possibly the format – did not appear to satisfy everyone or bring closure to their concerns.

The agenda for the meeting included an update on the Police Department’s diversity training and presentations about several police programs and initiatives, including de-escalation training. Several police officers described the programs.

Many residents voiced concerns about what they saw as a disproportionate number of police interactions with non-white citizens. Others spoke of the need for police de-escalation during routine stops.

Animated discussion among the committee members focused on the use of State-law-mandated contact cards (see sidebar) and the disproportionate number of police contacts with minority residents. They encompassed both the residents’ concerns about certain police activity and support for the police overall.

Police Programs and Initiatives

Police Chief Richard Eddington said he and diversity consultant Dr. Gilo Kwesi Logan “continue to negotiate a multi-year training contract that will make its way to City Council. I have said before that diversity training is more like a vitamin – which you have to take every day – than a vaccination that will cure something at once.”

Several officers described programs that had been implemented or were still being developed. These included drills for a live-shooter scenario, burglary-prevention advice, and a program for fifth- through eighth-graders to talk with police officers.

• The police officers involved in “The Law and Your Community” program, which was developed by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE), did not wear their uniforms when they met at Family Focus with youth “to talk about democracy and crime and punishment” said Officer Enjoli Daley. The second session of “Law and Your Community” began Dec. 5.

• This summer Officers Amanda Wright and Clara Just led City of Evanston employees at the Civic Center, the Water Facility, and the Library through scenarios in which there was a shooter in the building. “We train with power-point presentations, lectures, and videos,” said Officer Wright, “but the scenarios brought everyone together.”

• The problem-solving team developed C.L.E.A.R., a set of strategies to prevent burglaries to residences and vehicles: Call police about suspicious activity; Lock doors and windows; Engage neighbors to be on the lookout for suspicious activity; Arrange possessions out of sight of windows; and Record serial numbers of property.

 De-escalation Training

Officer Sofia Syed described the de-escalation training program the department plans to roll out in late January or early February. “The reality is that officers have had training for a while,” she said. “What is different is the understanding that de-escalation is not stand-alone. It consists of outreach, procedural justice, and negotiation.”

“Every interaction with a citizen is an opportunity for relationship-building,” Officer Syed said. The summits at Evanston Township High School and Coffee with a Cop are examples of outreach, she said.

Procedural justice includes fairness, transparency and impartiality. Negotiation, said Officer Syed, “is the life-blood of de-escalation. Our actions must be recognized as legitimate. Racism and abuse of authority are part of the history of this country. We have to address these fairly.”

Police officers should try to recognize possible motives for the action that brought the police to the situation, she said: domestic, criminal, psychological, ideal, or political.  Recognizing that the citizen is a person “is the springboard into our de-escalation process,” said Officer Syed. Training focuses on the “dichotomy between visceral and cognitive responses,” she said, with a goal of increasing cognitive and reducing visceral responses.

“Is there no cultural understanding presented to the officers?” asked Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward.

“There are many aspects,” said Officer Syed, the only Muslim woman on the Evanston Police force.

“I’m stating that culture is a key aspect,” said Ald. Holmes.

“It is important,” said Officer Syed.

“I’m hearing something different from the community,” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward. “We’re really missing the point of why we’re here today. There is a culture that needs to be changed.”

“I was really talking about culture – so when officers are approaching people of color – people react differently and respond differently” and police officers should understand that,” said Ald. Holmes.

Ald. Braithwaite then asked to halt the police presentation. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she wished to hear the entire presentation. Alderman Brian Miller took up the questioning by asking when the departmental rollout would occur.

“It’s in its infancy,” said Officer Syed. “We’re planning to introduce it in late January.”

“We will re-invent it frequently,” said Chief Eddington. He said de-escalation would likely be a part of every in-service training.

Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, asked for specifics on the sources of the training and said, “I know policing is an extremely tough job. Is there an interaction between state law and local policies that would interfere with de-escalation?”

Chief Eddington said he did not believe there would be a conflict but said the Police Department is reviewing that issue.

Contact Cards

Several aldermen directed the discussion to incidents of police-citizen contacts. Edgy exchanges between some aldermen and the police chief revealed that some aldermen and residents believe that the disproportionate number of police contact with minority residents stems from an implicit bias within the police force.

Chief Eddington, while conceding that some officers have displayed poor judgment in a few instances, denied that there is systemic racism in the department.

What apparently triggered the arrest of Devon Reid on Nov. 27, when he was collecting signatures for his nominating petitions was his refusal to give his birth date to the officer, who was filling out a contact card.

When a police officer interacts with a resident, the officer fills out a “contact card,” collecting certain personal information from the resident. Aldermen tried to whittle down what information must be collected and under what circumstances.

The use of contact cards has been “ongoing for quite some time,” said Police Chief Richard Eddington. They are used “if there is a suspicious action. The legal standard in Illinois is if we lay our hands on you, we have to document it. We’re asking officers to document stops. If these are not documented, the question comes back, ‘Why was this done?’”

“How do we remedy the situation where the individual doesn’t want to divulge information? Where’s the line?” asked Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward.

“It’s a difficult line,” said the Chief, “because you don’t know what information the police are loaded with – such as a suspect who might look like you or be dressed like you is in the area.”

“The onus is on the police,” said Ald. Miller. “I understand it’s tough. The question is, ‘When does the officer get to make the judgment call?’ I’m trying to find a balance.”

“We understand that balance, and we do it every day,” said Chief Eddington. He said he feels that the police have a responsibility to show a valid process. He said both sides need to understand the situation. “If you elect not to talk to us, you can go also that path. You may think there is no apparent crime, but that might not be what the police see.”

Police Practices

“You’re talking about culture versus policing,” said Ald. Braithwaite. “I’m looking at some of the police officers here. It’s a wonderful brotherhood that they have, that I see on the streets.

“From a cultural perspective – and I’m looking at some of the brothers in the police force, and please look at me. We understand that our community is being brutalized. I don’t care where you come from or where you live as long as you are the same color I am. What I hope is this recommendation will empower you in some way to have a direct conversation with your Chief of police so that you can address the issues of these officers that are causing us to have this discussion right now.”

Ald. Braithwaite also said white police officers who feel they need “additional help in sensitively dealing with our black youth who are sometimes disrespectful and unruly” should have avenues to discuss that. “It’s a national theme that we’re dealing with in Evanston,” Ald. Braithwaite said. “And it’s a very small number [of officers]. … Any issue in this town is manageable if we’re all focused on the same issue. So that’s my recommendation in terms of the conversation with Dr. Logan.

“What worries me, Chief, is when customer-service issues cost the City. The contact cards have been a source of escalation.” The police need a “mechanism to let the police officer walk away” [from certain situations], said Ald. Braithwaite.

Chief Eddington said, “I am in disagreement with your perception that we have unaddressed ‘frequent flyers’ who violate people’s rights. That’s not so. We have a robust discipline system. We have an early-warning system, where several factors are reviewed. … This place runs a little bit different than others do.

“Even in the difficult situation we’re dealing with now, there is no history of misconduct. Did an officer make a mistake? Yes. Did the Sergeant fail to correct that mistake? Yes. But to say this is an epidemic I think is inaccurate. And to lay it at the feet of the idea that ‘there are these police officers we’re not addressing’ is clearly not so.”

Chief Eddington also said, “The culture of this department has been on trial several times. This department is about as laid-back as we can get.”

 “I appreciate your defending your officers,” said Ald. Braithwaite. “And many of them are fine. But I guess I just look at the last 30 days: two situations, two officers, escalation – and exposing the City to risk.”

“My point, sir,” said the Chief, “is that you are taking two incidents and trying to extrapolate this into something that it is not. … Some things I’m not happy about, but I will wait for the investigation to be complete before I opine further in public. But I am concerned that we’re using these two incidents as a launching pad for a myriad of other things.”

 This year there have been 109,000 police contacts with citizens, Chief Eddington said, and there have been 17 complaints sustained.

“I think my ‘epidemic’ is proven when you look at the number of contacts with blacks and the number of contacts with whites,” Ald. Braithwaite said. “I’m talking about the percentage of stops of blacks. The discussion that led us to this point is that there is a disproportionate number of police contacts with people who are black or brown. I ask the Chief to look at the issues that got us here. … I’m sure I’ll come back and talk about this.”

Both Ald. Braithwaite and Chief Eddington agreed that the issue would be discussed again at a later meeting.

“I want to be really careful that we do not leave this meeting tonight with the perception that there is something really bad going on right now,” said Ald. Fiske. “

“I believe you’re correct,” said Ald. Tendam.

Citizen Comment

At meetings of the Human Services Committee, residents are allowed to speak before discussion of each agenda item rather than at the beginning of the meeting. Before the police presentations began, several residents spoke about the arrest of Devon Reid, who was collecting signatures on a petition to run for office, as well about other incidents that they believed showed unwarranted police behavior.

Elizabeth Meadows said “Every organization falls short of our ideals at one time or another. This happens. We should do better. I do not see that the Evanston Police Department is always living up to its commitment.”

Dickelle Fonda said, “I can say as a parent who has raised three children of color that I am not shocked [by the Devon Reid incident]. It has been going on. It is a problem that is much deeper. Implicit bias is imbedded in the police department; it is embedded in our culture as well. What I think is needed is a structural and policy change.”

Lavicieia Sturdivant talked about the incident in which she was asked to move her car and she and the police officer got into a verbal altercation.  Ms. Sturdivant made a video of much of the confrontation on her camera and has posted the video on her Facebook page. As of last week, there had been 6,000 views.

Shawn Jones, a candidate for Ninth Ward Alderman, said, “We have many strengths – good police and overall, the force looks like us. They are engaged in the community; the problem-solving team is very good. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. Too often when the police stop a person, they write a ticket for something else. Everyone knows about this. It happens more to black people than to white people. This is an issue that’s been visible to you [members of the Human Services Committee] for quite some time. We’re paying to defend the police for malicious prosecution. This highlights a culture that ‘If you stop someone, you have to give him a ticket – not just walk away. … We can do better, and we will do better.”

Carliss Sutton, who reportedly is a candidate for Fifth Ward Alderman, asked for a requirement that police officers live in Evanston. Mr. Reid said he would like to see the size of the police force reduced, saying that the money saved could be used for body-worn cameras.  “I appreciate the police officers. We need to make sure the police officers are living up to the highest standards in the nation,” he said.

Reverend Patricia Efiom said, “Police brutality exists and will continue to exist.” She also said she disagreed with Mr. Sutton’s proposal that police officers should live in the community. “As a pastor, I think we would do a tremendous disservice to the police to ask them to live in the community they police,” because of the “threat to their families and their own mental health.”

Carolyn Murray, whose son Justin was murdered in Evanston four years ago, said she recalled a meeting at the Levy Center where residents were invited to “air their concerns about police. There was no follow-up up on the recommendations of citizens who were there.” A candidate for Fifth Ward Alderman, Ms. Murray said, “I would like to do my part to work with the police and the community.”

Bennett Johnson said he agreed with Mr. Sutton and disagreed with Rev. Efiom about having Evanston police officers live in Evanston. He also said, “There is a need not only to train police but bring them in periodically for debriefing. The rabble, who commit crimes, cause you to change your attitude. There is a need to bring in police periodically for individual counseling. Police are successful not as vigilantes but as part of the community.”

Joan Hickman, who grew up in Evanston, said that, even though she lived near the lighthouse, she and her siblings were not allowed to attend Orrington School but were sent to Noyes (now the Noyes Cultural Arts Center building). She has volunteered with the Police Department for more than 20 years. She said she feels comfortable talking with different groups of people. Recent Evanston residents, she said, may not have “been exposed to black people and are afraid to ask the wrong questions. You [the police and the aldermen] and straighten them out so they can ask the right questions.”

 Ald. Tendam said a community meeting to talk about and with the police is scheduled for January.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...