The loss of now 24 Evanston police officers to other jurisdictions will have its greatest effect moving forward with the department faced with replacing experience and training the officers brought to the job, interim Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington told a city committee earlier this week.
Eddington told members of the City Council’s Human Services Committee at their March 7 meeting that “we’re really getting hammered right now with the attrition of trained personnel to other jurisdictions. And so in that context, I think we’re going to see a continuing uptick in crime because we don’t have the resources to apply to the hot spots like we did before.”
Eddington said that many of the officers the department has lost over the past 24 months came from specialized units: detectives, special operations, technical services.
“We have not backfilled those positions because we don’t have enough police patrol officers to cover the shifts, and so those specialties are not being restaffed and retrained,” he said.
His comments were delivered at the committee’s second look at staffing in the department.
Council member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, had called for the discussion following Eddington’s disclosure at the Feb. 7 Human Services Committee meeting that the department ranks were down by 22 officers.
(The number now stands at 23, and a 24th officer recently announced he was leaving to join the Northbrook Police Department, Eddington said at the March 7 meeting.)
At February meeting, Reid had requested that police return for further discussion of any correlation between police staffing and the city’s crime rate.
The committee’s discussion comes at a time when another group appointed by Mayor Daniel Biss, the Reimagining Public Safety Committee, is looking at alternate ways to provides services historically provided by police.
Police staffing figures stood at 135 sworn officers and 43 civilian employees, for a head count of 178 as of Oct. 27 last year, police said in their report at the March 7 meeting. At that time, there were 19 sworn and 10 civilian vacancies, for a total of 29 open positions, officials reported.
That is more than double the previous highest annual vacancy count in the past six years, officials said.
The vacancies among the 19 sworn personnel included the Police Chief, Police Commander and two sergeant positions, along with 15 police officer positions, officials reported.
An Animal Control Warden position, five service desk officers and two telecommunications officer posts are among the 10 vacancies in nonsworn personnel.
Since 2018, crime data has indicated that overall crime is increasing by approximately 5% annually, officials said in their report.
Violent crimes are following a similar pattern to overall crime between 2016 and 2021. Prior to 2018, violent crimes were decreasing, followed by an upward trend through 2021, the report found.
Council member Reid, in his analysis, focused on crime index figures which dated back to 1991 in the report.
With the exception of last year, and a few “outlier” years, he said, the numbers have been in “a fairly steady march down,” from 6,303 incidents in 1991 to 1,982 in 2019 (pre-Covid) and then 3,274 last year.
“Crime has been steadily going down, homicides have kind of fluctuated, that happens,” he observed.
“But the number of sworn officers has more or less stayed the same since the ’90s,” with a reduction in crime that far outpaces any loss in officers, he said.
“So it seems as though there isn’t a correlation between the number of sworn officers that we have and crime,” he concluded.
Eddington, chief of the department from 2007 through 2018, suggested that deployment of personnel, then at higher levels, played an important role in the reduction in crime the city saw in previous years.
“If you look at the dip … we refined our deployment system and attempted to get the officers to where we projected crimes were going to be. That has had a substantial impact,” he told committee members.
“So I would I would suggest to you one explanation is we are much more sophisticated at the deployment of those very expensive personnel resources to address crime, in a sense, before it happens.”
Special training and experience out the door
In a separate report to the committee from Sgt. Jeff Faison, the 21 officers who have left the department to work for other law enforcement agencies represent a combined total of more than 137 years of law enforcement experience.
Seven of the officers had over 10 years experience, Faison found. Ten were assigned to speciality units, including the Special Operations Group, Investigations and Traffic. Several were also assigned to specialty assignments such as NORTAF (the North Regional Task Force) Burglary, NORTAF Homicide and the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System SWAT group.
While the officers were at the department, EPD sent them to a combined total of 16,584 hours of training, according to Faison’s report.
New definition of crime needed?
In further discussion, Reid observed that while the department is budgeted for 154 officers in the city budget, that’s different than the number out in the streets.
He said further detail in that area might be helpful. Further, he noted, “We just bought drones and body cameras and all the things that I would think would lead to efficiencies that could see a reduction in crime.”
He also suggested the definition of a crime also is at issue in determining the right number of personnel.
“If I worked at Target or some business, for my employer to steal wages or not pay me my wages … we don’t send police officers out to investigate wage theft, but we do have a bureau that investigates drug dealers. We don’t really investigate certain types of crime that are just as destructive as, you know, drugs and other things. And so we don’t really measure the full way of crime that is taking place in our city unless we’re going to have a white collar crime division in the police department that focuses on other kind of crimes as well.”
Along those lines, Council member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, maintained an important element of the issue “is how success is measured.”
“I think if the public and also this this body understood how success was measured in every department, then these conversations would be easier, right?” he said. “Because we would agree on those measures. And then it’s very clear in the year, month by month, are we hitting those or are we not?”
“You know, if I’m a police chief, one of the measures is, all right, how quickly are we able to respond to service calls and how often are we able to stop things and yet, how how often are we able to stop things before they occur.”
Along with a clearer definition, “I think we’re having a really important conversation on our Reimagining Public Safety Committee,” Burns said. “And a lot of that ties into this discussion as well, which is again, thinking through who was the best public servants to send to certain service calls – whether it’s mental health-related or nuisance or disturbance-related, and a lot of this to me relates to this discussion as well.”
Reentering the discussion, Eddington said a core concern for him as police chief is “are there less victims this year than there were last year?”
“How are we doing what we do to prevent victimization?” he said. “And that’s a very complex evaluation because it has to do with, for instance, decisions that are made outside this building. For instance, what is the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office doing about repeat gun offenders? If they’re doing what they’re doing now, I would suggest it’s not working. But we we can’t directly fix that. And so now, how are we adjusting what we’re doing to function in that environment?”
Reid suggested follow-up committee discussions, naming part 1 (violent) crimes, vehicle theft, arson, human trafficking – “all that kind of stuff, that really dark stuff that causes real pain to other people” – as deserving more exploration.
In the meantime, he and other committee members voted unanimously to accept the report that police had presented at the meeting.