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Police Chief Richard Eddington delivered a series of reports to the City’s Human Services Committee on May 1, including a detailed analysis and breakdown of traffic stop data. The report came in response to a series of questions asked by outgoing Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, during his mayoral run. 

The issue came to the forefront when, in the heat of Evanston’s campaign season, a study released by the University of North Carolina entitled “Racial Disparities in Traffic Stop Outcomes” found that in Evanston black motorists were up to seven times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white drivers. The study covered 2014 and earlier years. 

Responding to the limited and scattershot UNC study, Ald. Tendam, publicly on Facebook and elsewhere, asked six pointed “questions designed to determine whether there has been any improvement since 2014.” 

“It’s a bad sign when I show up here with a glass of water,” Chief Eddington joked, signaling a long presentation. The PowerPoint presentation alone covered some 135 slides. Data also included a 2015 Illinois Traffic Stop Study annual report (referred to as the Weiss Study) and other crime data. 

It was a staggering amount of information for a single City committee meeting to attempt to process, a fact acknowledged at several points during the meeting. Both the Chief and Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said they expected to revisit the numbers repeatedly over the coming months. 

Ald. Tendam, chairing his last meeting as a member of City Council, thanked the Police Department for its work in gathering the data. 

The numbers presented covered all traffic stops in Evanston during the last two years – 12,024 in 2015 and 13,223 in 2016. Stops were broken down by race and the reason for the stop (violation, registration, equipment issue, or investigatory). The number of searches that resulted was also broken down by race and reason. 

A copy of the full report can be found on the City’s website, cityofevanston.com.

The numbers deviated from what one might expect in two places – the number of black drivers stopped for equipment violations and the number of black drivers subjected to a search for any reason. 

Ald. Braithwaite stared at the slide showing 579 black drivers were searched in 2016 compared to 171 white drivers, 479 to 126 in 2015, and expressed “confusion.” 

“I would say it’s not confusion, it’s concern,” said Chief Eddington. He then asked Ploice Commander Joe Dugan to bring up a different slide showing victim and suspect information for “crimes against persons,” defined as homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated battery and aggravated assault. 

In 2016, 56.45% of victims of crimes against persons were black according to the slide; 61.33% of those suspected in such crimes were black. The numbers were similar if not higher in previous years – slides going back to 2013 showed black persons were 54% of 2015 victims, 68% in 2014 and 52% in 2013. Black persons made up 59.5% of suspects in 2015, and 69% in 2014 and 80% in 2013. 

“One of the things that is part of this difficult conversation is that when we say we want to do all this math, crime is not distributed that way,” said Chief Eddington. Citing the “complexity of what we’re undertaking,” he added, “One of the ways [to place numbers] in reasonable context and make [the conversation] less incendiary is the realization that as we break down this population – that being the population of the City of Evanston – African Americans are overrepresented as victims and offenders in crime. 

“I think our job is to suppress crime. And so if we’re going to suppress crime, shouldn’t we be dealing with the people involved in those events?” asked the Chief. 

He continued: “And so I think that until the demographics of victims and offenders changes, I don’t think our stop data or our search rates are going to change.” As Ald. Braithwaite started to speak, the Chief concluded, “Frankly, sir, this is the difficult part of this conversation.” 

“I have to challenge this data because I look at the larger numbers,” said Ald. Braithwaite. He referenced the decision to implement a stop and frisk policy in order to address a gang problem tied to approximately 50 gang members in the City. “Five thousand stops versus 50 gang members,” he said. 

Ald. Braithwaite also mentioned the two or three “highly visible stops outside our community standards, referencing the Devon Reid arrest and the Lawrence Crosby arrest and beating. 

“We are listening,” said Chief Eddington. The department has made consistent and ongoing efforts dating back to former Police Chief Bill Logan to “diversify the police force” so more black and brown officers are “involved in the creation of these numbers.” He said the department welcomes scrutiny and has in place “checks and balances on us and by us.” 

Chief Eddington then turned attention back to the City as a whole. “I want to step back and talk about what the entire City is doing to more balance these numbers,” he said. “Success in school, cradle to career, our truancy ordinance that we passed a number of years ago…. We’re looking at the precursors to this – police interactions and attempting to create an environment City-wide that maximizes the probability of success for young people and minimizes the probability of their interaction with the criminal justice system.” 

“One of the things the Chief is alluding to,” said retiring Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th ward, “is the hard conversation we all have to have in terms of owing our own parts in our community where crime might exist.” 

Regarding equipment stops (headlights, turn signals, tail lights out), black drivers made up 46% of 2016 stops, compared to 35.7% for white drivers. In 2015, the numbers were closer – 38.5% for black drivers, 43.1% white. According to the Weiss study, statewide minority drivers were also more likely to be stopped for equipment violations than white drivers. 

“There’s always a concern that [such stops] will fall more on the people below the poverty line than above it,” said Chief Eddington. 

The meeting concluded without a resolution, but with a promise of ongoing discussions well into the future.