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Evanston Police Chief Demitrous Cook (Submitted photo)

The increased awareness of police shootings – particularly of unarmed Black and Brown people – would seem to make establishing trust between police and residents an uphill battle. It is, nonetheless, one that Evanston Police Chief Demitrous Cook says he sees as paramount to the department’s mission.

“To establish a great relationship, we have to be in a position to hear – to listen to what the public wants in a police department that is here to serve them,” Chief Cook told the RoundTable in a recent interview.

“Police have to respect the public and the public has to respect the police. Once you build that mutual trust and respect you can get down to problem-solving – that’s defining the problem, creating a change in the situation that creates quality of life issues in the community,” he said.

The Pledge

Last June, then-Mayor Stephen Hagerty signed the Obama Foundation’s Reimagining Policing Pledge, which it said is a “call for mayors and local officials to review and reform use of force policies, redefine public safety, and combat systemic racism within law enforcement. … Local elected officials are uniquely positioned to introduce common-sense limits on police use of force.”

Mayors who signed the pledge committed to addressing within 90 days their police department’s use-of-force policies.

In July and August, Mayor Hagerty and Chief Cook hosted a virtual series on policing in Evanston, covering such topics as use-of-force, training, budgeting, youth perspectives, and the complaint process.

Chief Cook in mid-August contacted the Northwestern Neighborhood & Network Initiative (N3), a branch of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research, asking the team to review the department’s use of force policy and make any recommendations, said Andrew Papachristos, Director of N3.

“Chief Cook and Deputy Chief Jody Wright explained that the requested review was part of the City’s participation in the Obama Foundation’s Reimagine Policing pledge,” Dr. Papachristos said.

The Police Department’s Use of Force policy, found on the City’s website, sets out the definition of use of force as well as procedural guidelines for officers involved in any use-of-force incident. It was drafted by Lexipol, a private company that consults with police departments, and it incorporates Illinois and federal law, said Chief Cook. Among other things, the policy prohibits using chokeholds unless deadly force is justified and firing warning shots.

In 2018, the year for which there is the most current data, there were 27 use-of-force incidents, with the highest numbers involving weaponless impact and the use of Tasers. Weaponless impact, said Chief Cook, is an officer’s putting hands on a suspect.

The N3 Report and Recommendations

The introduction to “Review of the Evanston Police Department’s Use of Force Policy September 2020” notes the ripple effect of any use of force by police officers: “The impact of police use of force extends beyond an individual officer or civilian to families, networks, neighborhoods, and broader communities. The impact of police violence also extends beyond the loss of life with several studies pointing to associations with elevated blood pressure, obesity, and loss of sleep, among other negative physical and mental health outcomes.

“Police shootings, however, represent only the most extreme and visible form of police violence, abuse, and misconduct. For every shooting reported in the media, there are hundreds of instances of non-lethal use of force, verbal abuse, demeaning interactions, and other problematic police behaviors.

“For example, between 2004 and 2014 police in Chicago fired their weapons at citizens approximately 696 times, deployed their Tasers 4,128 times, and were involved in more than 67,000 other forms of non-lethal interactions that required some ‘tactical response.’

“While the city of Evanston is not wrestling with comparable levels of police violence, it is important to take stock of police conduct and misconduct. … The public data portal only goes back to 2017, but, according to conversations with EPD, there have been four Use of Force incidents involving deadly force (3 shootings; 1 fatality) over the last ten years.”

The report contains nine recommendations under the topics sanctity of life, accountability and oversight, and proportionality.

The aim of the recommendations was to “strengthen the [use-of-force] policy, which in turn, may lead to additional reforms aimed at greater equity, transparency, and accountability,” the introduction to the report stated.

Sanctity of Life Recommendations

·        Require that officers use force as a last resort.

·        Prohibit the use of force on restrained persons.

·        Ensure additional protections for vulnerable populations.

·        Reinforce the need to provide and/or seek medical care.

Accountability and Oversight Recommendations

·        Provide a clear statement on policy for noncompliance.

·        Implement a duty to intercede … including requiring an affirmative responsibility on the part of supervisors to issue direct orders to stop any known violation of the use of force policy. The policy should also prohibit retaliation against individuals who report and cooperate with use-of-force investigations.

·        Improve data collection and access.

Proportionality Recommendations

·        Provide specific guidance on the principle of proportionality.

·        Provide a clear statement on de-escalation.  

At the Oct. 5, 2020, Human Services Committee meeting, members of the N3 team gave an overview of the report and answered some questions from Council members. The entire 12-page report, which also contains four “next step” recommendations, can be found on the City’s website https://www.cityofevanston.org/home/showdocument?id=59327

President Obama kept track of the municipalities that took the pledge. On Oct. 15, 2020, he tweeted, “In Evanston, IL, Northwestern faculty and students worked with their police department to develop recommendations to change the city’s use of force policy and improve training and accountability standards.”

At the Evanston Police Department
Chief Cook said, “I take the information from Northwestern real seriously. I made it one of my goals to incorporate these recommendations into our Lexipol policy.”

The use of force is a last resort, the Chief said. “You make sure that the officers have other tactics – being more verbal, consider less lethal options or even backing off. You know who the person is and where he is – come back later with a warrant.

“You don’t want to go beyond being proportional. You want [the police action] to be proportional and to fit the crime the person has committed. … A police officer should not escalate the situation.”

For de-escalation training, the Evanston Police Department offers computer-based sessions.

“We pay to have the whole department trained in use of force – it’s a different topic every month and the officer has 30 days to complete it,” Chief Cook said.

EPD in addition sends certain officers to other institutions, such as the Northeast Regional Training, the Police Law Institute, and Northwestern to receive additional training.

The Evanston Police Department has always been progressive, Chief Cook said.

“We don’t get much pushback against change. I think the police have realized that the change we’re talking about [is necessary].  … We are here to serve the public. We understand how we can produce a better quality of life in the community.”

Other Recommendations

Dr. Papachristos told the RoundTable, “We noted in the report that because of the accelerated timeframe, we understood this policy review to be the beginning of a longer and more in-depth process.”

Part of the conclusion reads, “… [A]n effective Use of Force policy is bolstered by strong policies across multiple issue areas, particularly in the area of transparency and accountability.”

Measures recommended for the longer term were committing to revising EPD’s current Use of Force Policy, providing an opportunity for feedback, reviewing and updating use-of-force training, and considering additional reforms needed to bolster any revised Use of Force Policy.

Dr. Papachristos said, “We also noted that EPD should consider reaching out to other national organizations for additional guidance as it went through the formal revision process. …  We highlighted best practices in the field and provided examples of other departments’ policies – that reflected those best practices – for EPD to consider. “

Chief Cook sees the partnership with N3 as ongoing. He praised the N3 team, saying, “That was one of the best deals we could have made. … The recommendations are up-front and progressive… does a lot of ground in letting us know how we should be de-escalating, looking at use of force and valuing the sanctity of life. We couldn’t have landed in a better place.”

Dr. Papachristos told the RoundTable, “N3 works to enhance public safety and community well-being and we are open to continued dialogue with City and community leaders.”

Law Enforcement May Be Ready for Reform

Chief Cook said he believes law enforcement in general recognizes the need for this type of reform.

“We are here to serve the community,” he said. “The way [policing] is done in the Black and Brown communities needs to change. I have to do it not only for the Black and Brown communities but for the good of the [whole] community.”