Evanston officials have begun a campaign to recruit police officers from other law enforcement agencies to address a manpower shortage within the Evanston Police Department. The department at present is down by 22 officers, interim Police Chief Richard Eddington told members of the City Council’s Human Services Committee at their meeting Feb. 7. 

Interim Police Chief Richard Eddington on the large number of officers leaving the city: “We spent a considerable amount of time and money training them in everything from gun tracing to cell record analysis. That’s hugely expensive to duplicate and will be frankly a drain on our resources for the foreseeable future.” (Photo credit: City of Evanston)

Eddington, who served as Evanston police chief from 2007 through 2018, was brought back in December to serve as interim Police Chief until the city hires a permanent chief, expected later this year. 

He told committee members at the meeting that police have been working with Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski, Human Resources head Megan Fulara and Human Resources Specialist Casey Solomon to develop a strategy to address the acute shortage. 

In addition, city officials took steps at the end of last year to heighten the attractiveness of working for the city, reaching an agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police – the union that represents police officers – on issues of retention and referral bonuses. 

Under the agreement, a current police department employee who refers an officer for lateral hire would receive $2,500 if the referred person is subsequently hired and sworn in as a member of the Evanston Police Department, according to a copy of the agreement obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the RoundTable. 

Should the new officer remain a police officer beyond the probationary period, the employee who made the referral would receive an additional $2,500 at the end of that probationary period. 

Eddington’s remarks about the lateral recruitment program came in response to a committee agenda item on examining morale at the department. 

The discussion about vacancies comes at a time when a committee established by Mayor Daniel Biss, the Reimagining Public Safety Committee, is looking at the city’s efforts relative to public safety, including department functions and personnel allocation.  

The recruitment effort targets officers in other communities who have already been through basic training and have some experience. The process would then shorten the time new officers would need to become full-time officers in Evanston and also eliminate the need to send them to a 14-to-16-week basic training school, Eddington said. 

“Staffing is a nationwide issue for law enforcement everywhere,” the Chief told committee members. 

At play, the Chief said, is that “a vast number of our core personnel are tier-two pensioners, which means essentially their pensions are portable to any other Illinois municipality.  

“That means we’re in direct competition [in] what benefits we offer, what salaries we offer, what working conditions we offer,” he told committee members. 

He said the department has taken steps to play up the advantages of working for the city. EPD is preparing an advertisement for The BlueLine, a website that posts job openings for police officers, to highlight the things that make the City of Evanston an attractive employer.

“I think that is very significant, because it has a different slant on it than what we would be telling our recruits who have no background,” he said. 

He said the department’s move to 12-hour shifts at the start of this year could also work in the city’s favor. The change means longer daily working hours but also gives officers bigger chunks of time off.

Eddington said the vacancy count is based on a department budgeted for 154 officers at full strength. No reasons were given as to why the officers left the city. 

Of the 22 officers who left the department between January 2019 and February 2022, 20 were lost to other police departments, a number of them going to work for departments in Chicago’s north and northwest suburbs, Eddington said. 

“And that is telling,” he told committee members, “and one of the key things about that I want to alert the council to is that these are core personnel [whose experiences range] from just out of basic training and less than a year on to 11-year veterans who have elected to leave service with the Evanston Police Department and be employed by another agency.  

“I think it’s going to take some additional research on my part to ferret out why that is,” he said. “I think that promotional opportunities are part of that. I discussed how we might improve that with [Human Resources], and we continue to have those discussions. I will also look for other issues that we can address quickly in an effort to reduce the flow of experienced, capable officers out the door.” 

“One of the biggest things about this is,” he added, “especially if you’re losing people that have more than five years on, [that] we spent a considerable amount of time and money training them in everything from gun-tracing to cell-record analysis. That’s hugely expensive to duplicate and will be frankly a drain on our resources for the foreseeable future.” 

Vacancy figure much larger, according to another count

Timothy Schoolmaster, President of the Board of Trustees of the Evanston Police Pension fund, calculated that with the officers leaving, the city has transferred close to $2 million in pension contributions to police pension funds in other suburbs. 

He said the officers who have left for other police departments or law enforcement agencies include three to Arlington Heights, one to Aurora, one to Barrington, one to Glenview, one to Round Lake, one to St. Charles, one to Dallas, Tex., and one to the FBI.

He offered figures that suggest the number of vacated positions may even be higher. Evanston Police Pension fund figures indicate the police force stood at 163 at full strength on Dec. 31, 2018, and had dipped to 122 by the beginning of this year, a loss of nearly 40 officers, he said.  

He acknowledged the difference may depend “on where you’re starting your numbers.” 

Schoolmaster, a 30-year veteran of the force who was actively involved in recruitment, training and administration during his time in the department, said the loss to the city in the skills and knowledge of the officers who have left is “incalculable.” 

Even “with the best and brightest” as replacements, it “will probably take five to seven years to recoup” that experience, he said. 

At one time the department was viewed as a national model for policing, Schoolmaster said. “We had people applying from all across the country to come here,” he said. 

Human Services Committee members on Feb. 7 were scheduled to join a full Council executive session on that same evening and held only limited discussion of the police morale/staffing issue. 

The committee is expected to go into more detail in a discussion set for its next meeting, March 7. 

Eighth Ward Council member Devon Reid told Eddington that at the March 7 meeting, he would like to see figures in support of the current number of officers on the force. With that, he said he would like to see a comparison of crime rates across a few decades with the number of police officers in place at the time  “and how those two lines have correlated with each other” over the years.

Chief Eddington said he would make sure that information is included in next month’s committee report. 

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.

4 replies on “With lateral recruitment and referral bonuses, Evanston taking steps to stop the loss of police officers to other departments”

  1. I spent 26 years plus as a Police Officer in the City of Evanston. During those years the City Council never really supported the Police Department. From what I hear now, nothing has changed and become worse. In my opinion you have to be nuts to join any Police Department now.

  2. What is being done with the currently unpaid salaries of the 22 officers who have left the EPD? That amount should be at least $1-$1-1/2 million dollars a year, not counting benefits. Can this money be used for youth support that might prevent crime, for the homeless whose crimes are usually ones of survival, for ongoing gun buybacks, for poverty programs and affordable housing?

  3. Last week there were three carjackings in one day! In 2021 there were record high homicide rates. There is definitely a correlation between Evanston being down 40+ officers and the increase in crime. How could there not be? Devon Reid and other anti-police members of the city council are a major reason the city is hemorrhaging police officers. Why would you work in a city that is anti-police? I would imagine people don’t do that job to be perceived as, “the bad guy”. How many more officers will we lose this year? I’ve heard we have lost several more since this article was written. What about the safety of our kids? What about our property rates? This is what the mayor and the council SHOULD be focusing on.

  4. “No reasons were given as to why the officers left the city.” It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the “Defund the Police” that was painted in enormous letters, entirely covering the street facing the entrance to the Evanston Police headquarters, could it? Or the fact that the City of Evanston decided to leave the these letters on the street for many months? Probably entirely unrelated.

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