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Community members praised retired Police Chief Demitrous Cook’s keen ability to connect with people – with one speaker calling him Evanston’s “most approachable chief” – at a heart-warming celebration of his service held on July 30.
City officials, law enforcement officers and community members attended the belated retirement party at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St.
The City announced in a June 7 news release that Chief Cook had retired after dedicating more than 30 years of his law enforcement career to serving the residents of Evanston.
Cook’s retirement came abruptly after he was called to meet with City administrators.
Martha Burns, who helped plan the event, said it was organized by residents in conjunction with the City of Evanston and Interim Police Chief Aretha Barnes.
“Our hope is that Cook will know that he is loved in this community and that he is respected,” Burns said.
Cook joined the Department in 1984, serving as a foot patrol officer in Evanston’s historically Black Fifth Ward, where he became a familiar figure.
He rose through the ranks to become Deputy Chief in 2004, overseeing the department’s Support Services Division and later the Investigative Services Division. In 2010, he was hired as Chief of Police for the Glenwood Police Department in Chicago’s South suburbs, before returning to become Evanston’s Police Chief.
Upon returning to Evanston, Chief Cook made a strong statement to the community when he purchased the home of the late Mayor Lorraine H. Morton in the Fifth Ward, where historical wealth and opportunity gaps, as well as over-policing, have had a documented negative impact on Black residents.
At the retirement party, Fifth Ward Council Member Bobby Burns said that he came to know Cook during his campaign for office and that people “literally felt safer because [Chief Cook] was here in the community, and people told me this.”
“You don’t get that by avoiding people,” he said.
“You get that the hard way, by answering people’s calls, and pulling up on park benches and talking to people, pulling up on church functions and family reunions – you get that from seeking out people.”
“And so, I just want to let you know that I don’t think I’ve ever met someone that is so committed, so passionate about their work. And it really encourages me – I think it encourages all of us – to take our professions seriously. Thank you so much,” Burns said, addressing the Chief.
Speaker Nathan Norman, the Youth/Young Adult Program Supervisor at the City of Evanston, called the Chief one of “the most approachable Chiefs of Police that I’ve ever worked with.”
When growing up, Norman remembered a conversation Chief Cook had with him and his family members, and how he “would tell us that we can do more than what we were doing at the time.”
“He cultivated us — he planted seeds in young Black men, and those seeds have come to fruition,” he said.
James Pickett, retired Deputy Chief, joined the Department in 1992. He said one of the things that impressed him about Cook was the way he knew everybody.
“And that was one of the first times I really understood what community policing was all about,” he said.
On one occasion, he remembered Cook, then a Deputy Chief, arriving at a homicide scene where a large group of people had gathered, upset that police officers had not moved the victim. As police waited for an evidence technician to arrive, he said, the crowd formed up and down Lake Street.
“And people were understandably upset. They were not only upset; they were angry,” Pickett said.
He said the situation was “touch-and-go” before Cook arrived on the scene.
“When Chief Cook came out, because he knew the community, he single-handedly walked up and down and calmed everybody down,” Pickett said.
Retired Sergeant Leon Mitchell, who started in the department in 1980, said he and Cook began working together early in their law enforcement careers.
“When I first heard Cook was leaving, I couldn’t understand that. I mean, this was ‘ice cream and cake: Evanston and Cook,'” Mitchell said.
Mayor Daniel Biss and former mayors Stephen Hagerty and Elizabeth Tisdahl also participated in the event.
Tisdahl attended in person, while Biss and Hagerty, unable to attend in person due to previous commitments, contributed statements that were read at the event.
“He worked in this community for more than 30 years,” wrote Biss. “Eventually leading our Police Department, but even before that always innovating, always working to improve not only the way policing works in his town but also the way that police and the community relate to one another.”
“When called upon to address the public. Chief Cook always spoke from the heart, and people appreciated that so much.
“Inside the police station, he was the boss. But outside of that building, he was first and foremost a trusted and well-liked community member. That matters so much, especially given how pivotable and challenging the issue of trust between communities and law enforcement can be these days.”
Hagerty recalled, “As mayor, there were many worries always on my mind. Many of these worries have sadly occurred in other communities across this country.
“Yet, despite the heightened concerns, focus, and demands placed on law enforcement today, the Evanston Police Department under Chief Cook’s leadership has generally avoided these nightmare scenarios. While one could write that off to good luck – and undoubtedly good fortune does play a good part – that wouldn’t account for the training, good judgment, trust and tactical decisions that Chief Cook has put in place,” the former mayor wrote.
Retired Evanston Police Chief Frank Kaminski, currently head of the Park Ridge Police Department, also commended Chief Cook for his service in a video produced for the event by Krista Burris.
“He made people feel comfortable. He was able to make people feel that they trusted the police. I mean that was a key to his leadership style and I think to the successes that he has had. And that boils down to him being able to put his heart and his soul into the community,” Kaminski said.
“I think Evanston is going to be a better place because he has had a part of their history,” Kaminski said.
With warmth, humor and eloquence, emcee Reverend Kenneth Cherry captured the spirit of the evening.
“Listen to the room. Everything they’re saying is true. Because, as they spoke, all throughout the room, everybody’s saying, ‘Yeah, that’s him. That’s Cook. I’m sure you heard it, all through their speeches… He’s been a blessing to this community,” Cherry said.