The Reimagining Public Safety Committee, appointed by Mayor Daniel Biss, is recommending that the Evanston Police Department stop conducting traffic stops involving equipment violations and license and registration violations. 

The committee, composed of citizens representing civic and political groups as well as elected officials, is tasked with analyzing EPD practices and suggesting changes for the city’s 2022 budget. The panel also recommended prohibiting searches without a warrant unless the officer has a probable cause, which might be a specific vehicle description for a crime or a weapon in sight, for example. 

These recommendations were made via formal vote at the virtual Oct. 26 committee meeting, and were presented as one strategy to curb racial discrimination in local traffic stops. The committee has been looking at EPD traffic stop data from 2019, which showed that 50% of motorists stopped for these sorts of violations were African American, while only 16% of Evanston’s population is Black. 

Mayor Biss said at the meeting that equipment and license registration violations are important, but they don’t constitute an instantaneous threat to public safety. “And I want to stress, we’re not saying that we don’t believe in the enforcement of these laws or city codes,” Mayor Biss said. “We’re saying that we don’t believe that the enforcement requires a traffic stop.”

At an earlier Sept. 28 committee meeting, Council member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, stated that when officers stop someone for a traffic stop, it may escalate simply because the person stopped is concerned about their safety interacting with an officer.

Throughout the Oct. 26 meeting, there was discussion about whether to allow police searches where the person stopped gives written consent. But the idea was abandoned. Betsy Wilson, an attorney who founded the Sentencing Advocacy Group of Evanston, said that requiring written consent would ultimately work against people being stopped.

“Those of us who’ve spent some time in the criminal world know that consent, when it’s elicited by an armed police officer from a person in an overpoliced community, that consent is almost never valid,” Wilson said. “Legally, it might be valid, but it’s not the kind of consent that we as laypeople would consider freely given. The pressure is overwhelming.” Wilson added that written consent has been used to undermine defendants at trial. 

The committee also recommended that the Police Department update its data practices, requiring yearly public reporting that connects arrests and other encounters by race, beat and shift. The Department reported that over 340 hours are spent in traffic stops dedicated to license and equipment violations, though there are few arrests as a result of them.

There are three council members on the committee – Devon Reid, Bobby Burns, and Cicely Fleming – and they each voted in favor of the change. The recommendation will now be sent to the City Council to be voted on. 

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at