City Council members at the Oct. 29 budget meeting resolved nothing but aired concerns about reducing police social services/victim advocacy as recommended by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz in the proposed million budget for 2018.

The City’s “baseline” budget shows a shortfall of $6.1 million. As one part of the plan to eliminate that shortfall, the administrators propose to eliminate 4 full-time-equivalent positions (comprised of 1 FTE Social Services Manager and 3 FTE Victim Advocates) in the Social Service Bureau of the Police Department, and to replace them with 2.5 FTEs (comprised of 1 FTE Senior Human Services Advocate and 3 half-time Human Service Specialists) in the Health and Human Service Department. While the new positions would report to the head of the Health and Human Service Department, they would work out of the Police Department. 

At present the employees in the Social Service Bureau offer counseling and referral services and serve as liaisons for victims when their cases are called in court. The new positions would not offer counseling services, but would provide referrals to victims for counseling services.

The City plans to reduce costs by reducing the number of FTEs from 4 to 2.5, and by reducing the salary level by not requiring the positions to be filled by credentialed social workers.

For about an hour during Council’s meeting, Council members and City administrators talked about these issues.

Citizen Concerns

Leslie Yamshon said, “I am deeply concerned about taking these fine people in social services and moving them to a bigger place, where they will get lost. We cannot afford to move people out of the police department. The police department is scary to families and kids.”

Janet Alexander Davis said that in her professional career she helped evaluate the Evanston Police Department. “I thought it was really good to have a [victim services] department like that at the police station to soften the blow – when only a social worker could step in and make a difference. So, I’m saddened that this has to happen.” She said she understood about the cuts but added that social services and health are not the same thing.

“Can you rethink how you’re going to do this? Please reconsider,” Ms. Davis said.

Karen Singer, CEO of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, said the organization has been providing domestic violence services for 30 years. “Through those 30 years we have developed the only comprehensive domestic violence program in the northeastern Chicagoland area.

“I am here to speak about how critical the domestic violence services are that have been provided by Victim Services for decades. We have been working with the EPD for 25 years. … We know firsthand that the services provided were critical and life-saving, and Evanston has been a leader.

“We urge you to ensure that residents of Evanston do not experience diminished access to critical domestic violence services. So, we at the YWCA-Evanston/North Shore just want to say that we stand by ready and willing to come to the table with resources and expertise to help support Evanston in whatever way we can to ensure survivors of domestic violence and their families continue to receive the support they need.”

Staff and Council Discussion

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “The Victim Services question breaks out into three categories: location, management, and capacity. … I feel like I need more input from people that are doing that work. It’s less of a budget question and more of a police issue.”

In an interview with the RoundTable, Police Chief Richard Eddington said, “I’m on the hook to reduce the police budget by $400,000. There’s no place else to cut that much personnel. Realistically, of the $35 million police budget, I have the discretion to spend about $800,000. ”

The budgetary shortfall “collided” with a perceived need to make some changes to the way the social services are delivered, he said.

 “The public expectation has changed from a long-term counseling relationship to a referral-based system. The need to spend money for credentialed social workers has become obsolete. And so, I think in that context a change is needed. There will be changes, but the victims will not be ignored.”

Evonda Thomas-Smith, the City’s Director of Health and Human Services, said, “The intent is not to provide less service but to leverage the service that we have in a better way.” In other words, the City hopes that local social service agencies will provide counseling and other services that the Police Department will no longer offer. The new/transferred workers in the Health and Human Services Department, then, would spend more time on referrals and no time on counseling.

Chief Eddington said, nonetheless, he believes that a reduction in services is “unavoidable” with the proposed changes. … Director Thomas has developed a plan that will minimize some of the disruption. Is it still going to look the same? Absolutely not. …

 “My task is to protect the core services as much as I can. Long-term employees are losing their jobs. … There’s absolutely no appetite for revenue enhancements” with cost of the District 65 referendum added to the school’s portion of the property tax bill.

“We have to take this difficult situation and look at it clearly and say, ‘Is it a service we need? Is there a better way to go about this … at a reduced cost to the City?’” the Chief added.

In addition to long-term employees’ losing their jobs, Chief Eddington said, the Police Department’s summer plan, to add one more police officer to the roster through overtime work, through overtime, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, will stop.

Because the City is for the most part eliminating licensed social workers from the police services and replacing the counseling and other services historically provided by them with referral information to outside agencies, only two major tasks would remain for the 2.5 FTE workers.

“We will continue the death notification of personal tragedy and continue our work with victims as they go to court,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said. “We’re pivoting off service delivery, but I want to make clear that those two, which I think are the most important things that we do, would continue as is: death notification and court liaison. There will be three part-time employees with incremental hourly pay for being on call.” 

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said he hoped staff would consider a residency requirement for these workers.

“I think we will do that,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said. “Professional training is required; knowledge of the community is important.” He also said the social workers at the Police Department had been given layoff notices, and they could apply for the full-time or one of the part-time positions, but the pay scales would be lower.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “You said numerous times that those duties will not change. Those duties are going to change, it seems to me. Explain again more clearly about the 24-hour on-call. What are they going to do?”

Mr. Bobkiewicz responded, “They will continue to do what they do today if there is a police incident. We are going to continue to provide what we currently do for victims of crimes in court. What we are going to do less of is counseling of those victims by City staff. Instead we are going to leverage referrals not only local agencies but other social service providers.”

Chief Eddington told the Council, “I think one of the unintended consequences will be more time spent with investigation, and that will I think hasten the case though the criminal justice system.

“Director Thomas has worked diligently to line up the resources that we will need to avail ourselves of as the service model changes. … “The coordination of responses through all City departments has been most important to [Parks, Recreation, and Community Services] Director [Lawrence] Hemingway and Director Thomas as they have worked through this issue that was foisted upon us.”