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On May 1, the City’s Human Services Committee debated how best to create a “Citizen Complaint Working Group.” A report presented by those who met to recommend how best to appoint the Citizen Complaint Working Group suggested creating a task force of concerned residents charged with appointing members of the Citizen Complaint Working Group, but the Human Services Committee recommended that Council follow existing City rules in appointing such members.
The City labeled the group “The Police Complaint Working Group Formation Meetings,” or PCWGFM. About a dozen residents who attended the meetings appeared at Human Services, many of whom spoke about the process of coming up with the report’s recommendations.
Jean-Marie Friese, who attended the PCWGFMs, said they met five times about two hours each time in an “attempt to come to some kind of consensus about how to move forward… In the end, I am proud of the collective work we did.” She and a number of others praised the contribution of Matt Walsh, who facilitated the meetings, and Evanston’s Assistant to the City Manager Kimberly Richardson, who served as the City liaison.
“The most difficult work lies ahead,” Ms. Friese added. A task force should be formed to select a working group, she said, and the working group will then make recommendations for “overhauling the current system” of accepting and reviewing police complaints.
Karen Courtwright said she attended four of the PCWGFMs. “There are still some things that need more meaty consideration,” she said. The PCWGFMs selected eight people to nominate for the task force to “work toward the formation of a working group,” she said.
Others who attended the PCWGFMs said the need for transparency and diversity was a topic of every meeting.
Betsy Wilson said she was “so happy to see the development of an independent task force” to select the working group. “It’s important that the task force is perceived as independent from the Police Department,” she said, adding that it needed to be both perceived as independent and actually independent.
“The conclusions of the [PCWGFMs] group were pretty much agreeable to everyone,” said Anna Roosevelt. She pleaded for additional inclusiveness within the task force, though, saying she could not attend the final PCWGFM because it was scheduled at the same time as a Harley Clarke public meeting.
“I can’t remember [the PCWGFM] making any decision that was not to consensus,” said Bobby Burns. He described the five-finger system, with five being strong disagreement and a closed fist meaning “absolute intolerable disagreement.”
When it came time for committee discussion of the PCWGFM report, confusion erupted. The PCWGFM report suggested a task force of eight to select a working group of 15 to 21. Both of these suggestions were met with criticism.
First, the working group size – 15 to 21 – was immediately amended to 10 to 12. “It is difficult to get to consensus with a large group,” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd ward.
“I certainly agree. I would go to something like nine to 12,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward. The committee settled on a final number – nine members.
Turning to the task force, Ald. Holmes said, “I’m looking at [the report], and I looked at it earlier, and I could not wrap my head around what they want. I’m just having a little bit of issue with it, that’s all. It’s not where I would go.”
The issue was the necessity of a task force at all, she said. City procedure provides for the formation of committees, but nowhere do the rules permit a task force to appoint the members of such a committee. Rather, the rules provide that the Mayor nominate committee members and Council approve the nominations.
“They want a task force to select the working group, and I can’t agree with that,” said. Ald. Holmes.
Ms. Roosevelt then rose to seek independent appointments, citing “grass roots” and “bottom up” selections through “filtering put forth by citizen groups.”
Carol Jungman, one of the recommended members of the PCWGFM task force, said the group “didn’t quite get to the point where we could actually outline the process,” but the PCWGFMs identified the organizations and representatives who “we want on the working group.”
Mr. Burns said, “This process is not a challenge to the Human Services Committee… it is not a challenge to your service [but] what I would ask” for is an independent task force “in order to complete the independence of the process.”
Ald. Braithwaite said independent selection of committee members is not the way things are done in Evanston. The Human Services Committee voted to forward the PCWGFM report along with its recommendations after cutting out the recommended task force. The Human Services Committee recommended the working group be appointed by the Mayor, and not by an independent PCWGFM task force.
A report detailing police traffic stop numbers by race and reason followed. As the report began at about 7:45 p.m., many of the PCWGFM attendees began to filter out of the room. “This is when the work begins,” said Ald. Braithwaite, “and half your group just walked out the door.”