The Reimagining Public Safety Committee met Tuesday evening to discuss a public safety resolution in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and violence prevention efforts in Evanston.
Fifth ward Council member Bobby Burns began the Jan. 18 virtual meeting with a callback to the Rethinking the Organizational Structure Working Group meeting from Jan. 4, where public safety in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center was discussed.
Burns said he thought the Reimagining Public Safety Committee started off “somewhat lost” in trying to find a model to adopt for Evanston but as he heard about the approaches Brooklyn Center is taking after the April 11, 2021 police murder of Daunte Wright, he felt Evanston could take a similar approach to public safety.
“We are obviously not at a moment to make official recommendations, but the commitment to public health and investing in people and communities is something that Brooklyn Center is committed to doing and we share that same commitment here in Evanston,” Burns said.
Two American Civil Liberties Union public safety experts – Khadine Bennett, director of advocacy and intergovernmental affairs at ACLU of Illinois, and Paige Fernandez, policing policy advisor in ACLU’s National Political Advocacy Department – attended the virtual meeting and made presentations about public safety.
Fernandez has worked with Brooklyn Center grassroots organizations and community members and said the implementation of alternative public safety and health models is intended to “stop relying so heavily on law enforcement and focus on prevention instead of punishment.”
Fernandez began her presentation explaining the resolution that passed in Brooklyn Center in May 2021 to address police roles, responsibility and powers while also providing the community with civilian-led services.
Brooklyn Center created new public safety departments including a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention that works in conjunction with the Community Safety and Violence Prevention Committee.
There are also two new units housed under the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention: the Community Response Department and the Traffic Enforcement Department.
The Community Response Department will be made up of social workers, volunteers, and medical and mental health professionals who will respond to mental health crises and other behavioral or social needs. The Traffic Enforcement Department will enforce all nonmoving traffic violations, such as broken tail lights and expired registrations, and its representatives will not be armed.
Brooklyn Center police officers will be required to give citations for misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors, not make arrests, although this policy does not apply to felony stops.
After the presentation, Burns said that partnering with the ACLU to create a similar model for Evanston could be beneficial.
“Don’t think of it as we are ready to copy and paste what Brooklyn Center is doing and bring it to Evanston,” he said. “What we found is a model we can learn more about and a city we can partner with and learn from.”
Council member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, said an ACLU partnership would be a good idea for the city to explore.
“I think this is a solid road map to follow and I am really excited to continue to work with the working group and bring something forward that works in Evanston,” Reid said.
Committee member Betty Ester stressed the importance of including community input on any endeavors.
“We should be talking to the people in the community and getting their support and what they think and what they feel and if there’s something that is missing that they feel should be addressed,” Ester said. “Let’s not wait until the last minute to bring in the community.”
Sara Bogan, committee member and member of Evanston Fight for Black Lives, said that to connect with Evanston youth, a solid plan must be in place first.
“For our group, we need to have a plan, something tangible we can present, instead of asking for input into how it should be, and make it clear that we really want to hear what people have to say and are open to making adjustments,” Bogan said.
Burns and Mayor Daniel Biss agreed, saying that asking for feedback should be a habit.
“We need to be in the habit of reaching out for feedback. That will result in better feedback and a better feeling of openness in the community,” Biss said.
An update from Audrey Thompson, the city’s Community Services Manager, and Andrew Papachristos, Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University and Director of the Northwestern Neighborhood & Network Initiative on violence prevention, closed the meeting.
At the Jan. 10 City Council meeting council members voted 8-0 to approve an allocation of $552,500 of the $41.3 million in the federal American Recovery Plan Act funds the city is receiving to expand the “My City, Your City, Our City” program.
The funds will provide new and expanded programs in the areas of education and civic engagement and be allocated to increase the number of camps where youths can learn alternatives to violence.
“Now the work begins in implementing what is already in the proposal and what we hope will be the start of a workforce development program with violence prevention specifically in mind,” Thompson said.
Thompson and Papachristos said some time is needed to figure out who will be involved to create the workforce development effort.