Two City officials went on record voicing  concerns about the effect of cuts on the Evanston Police Department in a Council committee meeting Aug. 17 that looked at alternative service models.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, followed by Evanston Police  Chief Demitrous Cook, raised concerns late in a meeting of the Council’s Human Services Committee.

Committee members are exploring proposals first raised by advocates of defunding, reallocating resources to social service agencies better suited to handle certain  situations now handled by police.

At the meeting, Ald. Fiske said that while “I’m happy to have that conversation — I’d like to hear more about all of that, but I don’t want us cutting the Police Department at the risk that we’re going to then have to turn around, and we’re not going to have the kind of police coverage that the community wants.”

Chief Cook’s comments on Aug. 17 contrasted sharply in tone with those he made at the Committee’s opening discussion Aug. 3 on the defunding question.

At that earlier meeting, Chief Cook told the Committee, “My job is to operate the police department in the most effective and efficient manner possible — public dollars are sacred. And the utilization of public dollars should bring value. So what we do in the police department should be creating value for the money that is spent.

“And if we can do that in a more efficient way, with the help of partnerships from other agencies, I like that.”

At the recent meeting, though, he described a department stretched beyond its personnel. 

“The [Evanston] Police Department is a full-service police department,” he told aldermen. “We’re not just driven by calls for service — what [the information about activity] you may have been getting in terms of data from the 911 Center.

“You know we’ve got Metra; we’ve got the CTA. We’ve got 25,000 students over at Northwestern; we’ve got a 50,000-seat stadium; we’ve got the second largest water plant in the State, we’ve got 15 elementary schools, we’ve got the largest high school in state.

“It’s a lot of things that we have to cover with the limited resources that we already have,” he said.

Further, Chief Cook told the Committee, “When you look at our [City] budget [$41.1 million], take out the $11 million that goes into funding the police pension we’re left very little money to operate the Police Department, probably a little less than $2 million.”

The Chief said the current number of officers is down to 149 from the 169 officers in the Department when he started a little over a year and a half ago.

“The cops here don’t remember when the Evanston Police Department was at 149 officers,” he said. “I’m the only one here that does.

“I know we can function to a level of proficiency,” he told aldermen.

But he maintained officials needs to take into account “where we are in America in terms of crime, things that this City has offered in terms of the people that come in and visit, what services the public has come to want in this town.

“We just had these murdering crimes [three homicides in four days in early August],” he pointed out. “We had to put more resources in those neighborhoods to make people feel safe. Those are the type of things that people expect, and diminishing our manpower to a point where it’s ineffective is going to do nothing, but you’re going to pay for it at time and a half,” he said, referring to overtime costs that will be needed to bolster numbers on the street.

In response, Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, chairing the meeting, pointed out “that one reason that we’re contemplating this alternative agency response model is to be able to relieve police officers from having to respond to a big number of calls that don’t really require a police officer,” using a mental  health professional or medical person or both respond to instead.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said the Committee is trying to gauge the right level of response, given limited resources. She acknowledged the Chief’s concerns about meeting service expectations. 

At the same time, she said, “We’re looking at all kinds of budget deficits,” she said, noting that part of an alderman’s job is to communicate with citizens what level of service can be delivered with the resources at hand.

“I mean, we probably get calls all the time from people who want the City to do a bazillion things the City can’t do, or is not going to have the money to do,” she said, “and we have to be honest about that.” 

Ald. Fleming said she also thought aldermen have to keep pushing forward, thinking “about gaps in service and what we can do.”

“You know, I feel like there’s some money [to be saved] in the Police Department — I know the Chief disagrees. I’m not a police officer. I can just tell you from what I’ve observed. I was at one of the homicides, unfortunately, and we had a lot of officers standing around and, again, I’m not an officer — I’m sure some [there was] work that they were doing, but lots were standing under a tree.

“So I think that if we have another option for people to call on. I want to think if we are dispatching our officers in a more creative way, [and if] there’s a way for us to make this happen.” 

Ald. Fiske stressed she is more than happy to have a conversation on the issue. The Human Services Committee is next scheduled to meet Aug. 31. 

Pointing to Chief Cook’s remarks, “If I’m hearing them correctly, they’ve [Police Officers] made a decision on the community standard of policing to be provided. That’s where they’re at right now.” 

She maintained the decision before aldermen is whether “we want to change that community standard.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.