The article “African American Leaders Discuss Arrest of 12-Year Old” in the Sept. 7 issue of the RoundTable summarized the reactions of many African American leaders to the arrest of a 12-year old youth of color on July 14 in downtown Evanston. They expressed frustration and outrage at a meeting held at Reba Place on Aug. 31.
A sidebar to the article also provided the view of the Evanston Police Department (EPD) on the arrest: that it was more in the nature of a “safety intervention.” The sidebar also provided the “Arrest Info” contained in the Arrest Report which stated, “Bicycles-obstruct Vehicle Traffic,” with a citation to Section 10-9-4(J) of the City’s Municipal Code. The “Narrative” of the Arrest Report says, the juvenile “was taken into protective custody after behaving dangerously on a bicycle in the 1700 block of Sherman Avenue Evanston Illinois. He was transported to EPD for his safety.” The report also says the juvenile officer notified the juvenile’s father, and there was an “Informal Station Adjustment.” The case disposition stated in the Arrest Report is, “No Further Action.”
The article’s summary of the arrest and the disposition was incomplete. While the Arrest Report states there was an “Informal Station Adjustment” (ISA), the EPD used a “Formal Station Adjustment” (FSA), which has stricter reporting requirements and potentially more severe consequences if a condition is violated.
In a letter dated Sept. 11 to the youth’s father, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and Police Chief Richard Eddington state that an FSA form was “mistakenly used when it was the processing officer’s intent to document this incident using an Informal Station Adjustment. The use of a Formal Station Adjustment form was a mistake. Please consider this letter as a correction to the record of this incident … The intent of the officers was to keep your son safe.”
The handling of this matter raises many questions.
First, Section 10-9-4(J) of the Evanston Municipal Code provides, “No bicycles shall be operated on a public roadway so as to obstruct motor vehicle traffic.” Section 10-9-10(D) provides that the penalty for a violation of this section, may include providing a youth with a leaflet explaining bicycle safety, or a reprimand, or a ticket. If there’s a fine, the fine is $10, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
It is undisputed that the youth in this case was not “operating” the bicycle; he was standing on the pegs in the rear of the bike. By all accounts he was respectful to the police. It is unclear what basis there was to arrest him for a violation of a City ordinance that expressly relates to the “operation” of a bicycle. It is also unclear what the justification was to arrest the youth, to transport him to the Evanston Police Department (EPD) in a police wagon, to prepare an Arrest Report, and to use an FSA, when the potential penalties specified in the ordinance are providing a leaflet, giving a reprimand or ticket, or a $10 fine. The police reaction seems extreme.
The RoundTable has been told that youth who was in control of the bike was not arrested, even though police could have done so that night.
Second, a minor arrested for any “offense” may receive a “station adjustment” for that arrest, as provided in 705 ILCS 405/5-301. A station adjustment is intended to be used to resolve alleged offenses in a way that avoids the juvenile court system.
The State statute provides two procedures for a station adjustment: an ISA and an FSA. In either case, a juvenile police officer must determine there is “probable cause to believe that the minor has committed an offense.” To use an FSA requires an additional element, namely that the minor has admitted participation in the offense.
In either case, an ISA and an FSA do not constitute an adjudication of a criminal offense, but of the two, an FSA is the harsher procedure.
We question whether either an ISA or an FSA was proper in this case when the only mentioned offense is a violation of an ordinance relating to the “operation” of a bicycle. As noted, the juvenile was not “operating” a bicycle, and in our view, there was no probable cause to believe that the youth violated that municipal ordinance.
Again, an arrest and the use of either an ISA or an FSA in this matter appear unauthorized and excessive.
We recognize that the police maintain that the youth was taken into protective custody for his own safety. If the purpose was to protect the youth, it is unclear why he was transferred in a police wagon to the EPD, why an Arrest Report was prepared, and why an FSA was prepared. There are better ways to safeguard a youth.
Third, many community leaders and residents have argued that this case would have been handled differently if a white youth were involved. We think the allegations have to be carefully examined.
The letter signed by the City Manager and the Police Chief states that after an investigation of the complaint filed by the father of the youth is resolved, “the paperwork regarding your son’s involvement in this incident will be destroyed.” In essence, the City and the EPD will expunge the arrest and the FSA. This is a positive step.
The letter also states the EPD is reviewing procedures for the use of both IFAs and FSAs, including the forms used to document these incidents and document retention policies. This too is a positive step.
We also suggest that the City and the EPD determine how to handle minor, non-violent incidents involving youth in a way that avoids transporting them to the EPD, that avoids an Arrest Report, and that can build, rather than harm, trust with the police. In addition, the City and the EPD should carefully evaluate whether white youth and youth of color who are stopped or detained by police for similar offenses are being treated differently, and take steps to ensure there is equitable treatment. We expect that the City and EPD are undertaking these analyses. These are starting points.