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Evanston may cut around the edges and look for ways to make its police department more efficient.
But in the end, “It’s going to have to come back to the conversation about personnel,” offered Andrew Papachristos, a Northwestern University sociology professor who has studied defunding.
“I’m not going to pretend that I know how to manage a city budget, let alone a department of, you know, 140 officers, 150 officers, but personnel is at the core of the question around that – which means, ‘What are they doing?’ and ‘Where are they?’ and ‘Where do we want them to be doing lt?’” he said.
Professor Papachristos’s comments came during the later part of a Q&A session led by Mayor Stephen Hagerty on July 13, which took a closer look at the police department’s budget.
Mayor Hagerty has initiated a series of forums on the City’s YouTube channel, looking at police operations, in response to a movement across the country, including Evanston, calling for reduction of funding in police department budgets.
In Evanston, groups are calling for the City to reduce the amount of the funding to the department “and reallocate it into other areas that will further support the Black communities, the Brown communities and those that are overpoliced because of crime in those areas,” Mayor Hagerty noted.
Meanwhile, Evanston City Council members are scheduled to have a wider discussion of the department’s budget at their July 27 meeting.
At the Q&A session, Mayor Hagerty asked Police Chief Demitrous Cook and Finance and Budget Manager Lou Gergits to talk about the costs in the budget. (The entire interview is available at https://youtu.be/0Oiw1pQi9u4)
Mr. Gergits said, personnel costs, service and supplies, and fleet maintenance and replacement make up the three main categories of spending of the department’s budget, “and the first thing that should stand out to everybody is that basically 94% is personnel-related.”
Much of the costs responsible for a 6% increase in the 2020 police budget are due to salary and pensions, said Chief Cook, responding to Mayor Hagerty’s observation that the hike appeared “pretty significant.”
Officers agreed to a zero- percent increase in salary last year, Chief Cook noted, but in exchange were given additional compensation days, for which they could get paid if they elected to not use them.
“Now what happens with that type of benefit is it increases over time,” he explained. “So if I don’t utilize my time this year, and I’m allowed to carry them over, and then I get a raise, than that money increases.
“The other issue is the compounded rate of pensions,” he said. Evanston’s pension was at one time one of the lowest funded in the State. “The money that is reflected in the police budget, $11 million for pension payouts, is money that the City has to pay in order to keep the pension fund solvent.”
Still, the department is not fully staffed, said the Chief. “Staffing is about the proper amount of staffing [to deliver services] that the City expects, you know – whether its investigative services, whether it’s the problem-solving team, whether its victim-advocate.
Chief Cook said the department currently has as many as 15 positions unfilled in the department’s 160-member force.
In addition, “we flattened the department in terms of the number of people that we have doing the work.”
In patrol, the Chief said, “we shifted to a 12-hour shift. And that has been successful for us. … You actually put more police officers on the street at any given time.”
The Mayor asked Professor Papachristos to chime in on the direction the City could take in response to the call for reductions.
Mr. Papachristos, the director of Northwestern’s Neighborhood and Network Initiative, suggested that part of the solution may be “figuring out which of these things that you’ve gone through within this budget may be better placed elsewhere or overlapped.”
He said the City may choose to look at where the department’s record-management system might be duplicative with what the City already has.
“And you can do that, you should do that,” he said. “The hard thing, of course, goes back to where we started – which is, you know 93% of the budget having to do with personnel means policing in general.”
Funding then, “really comes back to what Evanston, Evanstonians, want to have as the ratio of officers that are patrolling, to residents.” He suggested ratio is one tool that can be used. He said analyzing 311 and 911 calls might be another.
The City could take a look at where patrol efforts being expended on a daily basis.
“And also,” Prof. Papachristos said, “we talked about Evanston and our neighbors to the north and west, but also to the south. And so where and how we allocate those resources … and can we do that in ways that are more efficiently?”
He also suggested officials look at some of the new initiatives around neighborhood and community policing, “and thinking about how some of those can leverage or offset” what is currently in use.
Ultimately, though, “I think any defund conversation will have to come down to personnel, and how many we want and what we want those police to do,” he said.
Students Have Been a Moving Force in the Defunding Discussion â But Can They Keep It Going?
Students say they are still having to dispel misconceptions about defunding in seeking support for their efforts.
Liana Wallace, one of the leaders of the defund movement locally, said she can tell as much when drivers pass the corner of Lake Street and Elmwood Avenue.
Protesters have been gathering regularly in the corner across from the police station on Sundays, holding signs inviting support.
Right now, “it’s like 50-50 for those that are comfortable honking and those that are not,” she said.
She said some of the confusion concerns elimination of police services versus the funding of other services, “and right now we’re at the state of talking about moving money – that’s all we’re talking about right now.
“As of right now defunding really means taking a large portion of the budget and moving that into community resources – whether that’s health services, education services, family services like childhood education,” said Ms. Wallace, an Evanston Township High School graduate and a sophomore at Georgetown University.
Police would still be needed in cases where, for instance, people were speeding down the road, she said. But in other cases, “if you look at the very highly resourced wards of Evanston – how often are those community members actually interacting with police?
There’s a lot of over-policing in the more Black and Brown wards in Evanston,” she asserted, “so it just doesn’t make sense to give them [police] more funding.”
Sinovia Aiden, co-organizer, joining her at the Sunday rallies, maintained that greater police presence does not necessarily mean lower crime, “which is what a lot of people’s idea of policing is supposed to accomplish,’’ she said.
The two are concerned about keeping the movement going, with many of the more active members of the campaign facing a return to college in a few months.
“I think sustainability has been a conversation nationwide,” said Ms. Aiden, acknowledging that organizing can be hard work, “especially for 20-year-olds like ourselves who have full-time jobs, are full- time students.”
At this point, “both Liana and I can say, our voices have been heard a lot in Evanston, centering around these kinds of conversations. But I think it’s more about finding those whose voices haven’t been represented, because we all come from very different walks of life. So finding those folks I think is really important.”