Prior to the review of newly proposed police procedures at the Feb. 6 Human Services meeting, several residents voiced their concerns and observations about the state of relations between residents and the City’s police force.
Betsy Wilson, founder and president of Sentencing Advocacy Group of Evanston, said the process of reforming police procedures must be done with public input, that transparency and accessibility are essential in police relations. “This community is badly broken. Reports show what happens when trust breaks down between the police and the public: the public becomes hesitant to cooperate when that happens and that’s certainly not what we’re looking for.” She addressed the Champaign (Ill.) report on its Police Complaint Working Group, which was included for discussion in the meeting packet. She said Champaign had the involvement of the community in proposing changes. “There haven’t been closed discussions between government officials and police. The public had a voice. If the goal is to increase trust, you need to ask the public what that will take to feel more trust and engagement.” An independent oversight board is also needed, said Ms. Wilson. “Now complaints are investigated and evaluated by police. The party that controls the evidence controls the outcome. Without independence, people have little faith in the results.” Ms. Wilson suggested that neighborhoods should be represented on the board in proportion to the contact they have with the Police Department. She said she was “appalled” at the amount of time it took to release the Crosby video, that there should be a “systematic and automatic way” to release such information so it doesn’t seem like there is something to hide and that the race, ethnicity, and resulting charges should be disclosed as well. The complaint process must be more accessible and more “comfortable,” said Ms. Wilson. “Now, you have to go to the Police Department and talk to a police officer [to submit a complaint].”
Stephanie Moffitt a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University said that she and her peers are “part of the community” and they “need to feel safe but don’t always.” “Diversity and talent becomes limited” if students decide not to come here. Another Ph.D. candidate at NU, who gave his name as Josh, said “recent incidents have had an impact on the graduate community” and he is “definitely in agreement with need for engagement with community including NU….We attract international students. We are part of this community.”
Carlis Sutton, who is running for 5th Ward Alderman, stressed that citizen participation in training is important and should be incorporated into the new procedures. A public voice is “essential” for the police-community relationship, he said.
Shawn Jones, a 9th Ward aldermanic candidate, spoke about changes to police policy. “One aspect not discussed enough is the impact of an arrest record.” Twenty-five percent of black men not currently in prison have a criminal record. Thirty-four percent of nonworking men ages 25-54 have a record. A Chicago Urban League study said 43-47% of young black men are unemployed. Obviously these are connected. Arrest records, not just convictions, are holding people back.” Mr. Jones spoke of two separate clients who, after moving out of Illinois, had trouble finding a job due to a past arrest made in Evanston. He helped expunge their records so they could find work. He spoke of the arrest of Devon Reid and a kid arrested for a bike light who spent the night in jail. “When we arrest black youth in this community for minor offenses, we make the problem worse. This closes doors for our youth.” Mr. Jones also spoke of a policy not included in the reform proposal. “At the Police Open House last week, Chief [Richard] Eddington indicated a policy change. He said, ‘If we place our hands on someone, we must issue a citation.’ I don’t see that change here.”
Jean Marie Freise came with her “mom hat on” and spoke of remembering “Officer Friendly” coming to her classroom as a child, teaching her that police protect people. “I want so badly to teach that to my children too, but my kids have brown skin and that’s not how the conversation goes down in my house.” She said she had not come to debate the merits of the Crosby arrest, but “rather I come here before you tonight to ask you to consider hearing out the voices and concerns of the very people who have to live with the consequences of how this community is policed.” She encouraged the City to look at how citizen complaints are addressed and focus on transparency and accountability.
Melissa Blount said that the “community is missing” and that there has “not been real engagement” in crafting the policy changes. “When people make policies and procedures far away, they are not effective. We need to slow down the implementation [of the proposed changes].” She said the current process is “setting up an us vs. them dynamic” and that the community must be realistic in knowing police are acting in “a racist narrative…[which] impacts how young people of color are seen.” She encouraged the committee to “think about bringing in people who are experts in these fields to shape practices.”
Anna Roosevelt, a concerned resident, said that just because Evanston is diverse does not mean it is unbiased. She has seen police harass “African American boys.” She said her block used to be integrated and now it’s not. The community needs a plan to be integrated, she said.
Betsy Clarke, a resident and president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, said research shows “if we get out of the way and not saddle [kids] with a record, the vast majority will go on to live productive lives. We just have to get out of the way.” She spoke of Miami Dade (Florida0 diversion programs that do not include arrest records, and their crime rate went down.
Rev. Michael Nabors of the Second Baptist Church and president of the Evanston NAACP said the issue of police relations in the black community needs to be looked at “with a wider lens,” that it is not just about the black community. “If anyone in the community is in pain or hurting it makes all of the community in pain and hurt.” He said it is critical that a plan includes everyone, that “everyone has to sit at the table, articulate worries, offer suggestions. We are experts in so many arenas, yet we are doing our things in silos. We must work together. Don’t bring us the plan, let us participate in making a plan work for everyone. If we do, we’ll be a little farther down the road.”
Madelyn Ducre said she was proud that so many came out for the meeting. She said she wrote a letter to the U.S. Attorney General to “check on Evanston because they checked out Chicago. “She added that “there are some on this [police] force we need to hang on to whether they live in Evanston or not. If [police officers] don’t get it, they must go.”
Priscilla Giles, said she fears the City is “on our way to another holocaust.” It’s “mostly black people who are driven out. We are not a model city anymore.”
Lester Blair said we “need active African American males dealing with our youth.”
Devon Reid, who was recently arrested while campaigning for City Clerk, said this discussion and pending changes didn’t happen a year ago, they are due to transparency. “Moving forward we must act with transparency” and “proactively release” information.
Stacy Fulce-Gentle, whose father was a police officer, believes the Evanston Police Department is becoming “further militarized” and is inconsistent with community policing. Growing up, the police were in place chatting with residents, she said, but not now. She encouraged the City to “look at the culture and on-boarding” of the Police Department.