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Representatives from the Chicago-based consultancy Hillard Heintze, Inc., presented a report on the state of the Evanston Police Department (EPD) at the City Health and Human Services Committee’s Nov. 5 meeting.
The report stated that EPD was overall a well-managed agency staffed by command and supervisory personnel with “a goal and a desire to see that delivery of services met expectations,” said Hillard Heintze Chief Legal Officer Debra Kirby in a summary of the findings at the meeting.
Ms. Kirby added that there was no “low-hanging fruit” that needed to be addressed going into the study; that is, the report was not compiled in response to reports of egregious misconduct. The authors and City officials nevertheless consider the report vital, given Police Chief Richard Eddington’s imminent departure.
According to the report, authors focused on EPD’s “organization, command structure, mission, values and cultural environment; … current command and supervisory assignments for span of control and unity of command purposes against the Department’s objectives; … community engagement and outreach practices; and … policies and practices as they relate to communication and engagement inside and outside the organization.”
Among potential challenges for EPD pointed out by the authors is its supervisory structure, Ms. Kirby explained. She noted that one unit had no supervisor, while another had a supervisor for just four officers, for example. The report thus calls for supervisory staffing consistency, additionally noting that EPD has an unusually large command staff, with one command officer per 1.8 sergeants.
“Officers have [significant] capacity to make important decisions,” said Ms. Kirby in explaining the need for a clearer hierarchy of accountability. The report also suggests a a study of the structure to better “capture efficiencies.”
The report also called for EPD to make a more concerted effort to implement technology in its operations, particularly in collecting data to reform deployment and management systems. Authors also suggested automating EPD’s record management system for example; as the system now stands reports are sent to supervisors to identify cases needing follow-up, and supervisors use MicroSoft Excel spreadsheets to manage their investigation workloads.
A significant finding was, according to the report, “the limited data regarding investigative assignment, case management processes and investigative standards for the Divisions,” which it suggests are the result of information gaps brought on by the manual inputs needed for the spreadsheets. Among Detective Bureau assignments, it noted that “a significant number of the assigned investigations were closed as No Further Action (NFA) – 41.6 percent of the general cases [detectives] and 52.3 percent of the domestic violence [detectives].”
The report further notes that 33 percent of the cases investigated by the juvenile detectives were NFA, while 44.7 percent of the cases investigated by the School Resource Officers were NFA. On that basis, the authors recommended combining the Detective and Juvenile Bureaus.
“Should this merger occur, staffing levels should be reviewed based on the workload and other assignments within these units. Additionally, ensuring sufficiently trained staff to address juvenile and other criminal investigations should be part of the merger plan,” the authors write.
In response to the findings, Chief Eddington later used the same analogy he brought up during the Nov. 5 meeting: “I know that Ms. Kirby is the consummate professional, but we can have differences of opinion. Ms. Kirby’s overview of the department is comparable to an SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance pilot versus myself, the ground commander, who’s been in place for 12 years—we’re going to have differences of opinion.”
The committee heard criticism during public comment Nov. 5 that the report was too little, too late, now that the City is undergoing an arduous budgeting process that will already significantly impact staffing levels. Resident Betty Ester also said that community members should have been involved in the information-gathering.
Ald. Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, answered that the report would be revisited more extensively, with community input, after Chief Eddington’s replacement goes on the job: “This was just the introduction tonight.”
And. Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, added, “This report is a piece of what we need to consider. I want to be careful that we don’t feed into the idea that this is something that we push onto the community … This is one piece of the process.”