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As the city comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Evanston Police Department says it expects to have a greater presence downtown, using a variety of approaches to deal with aggressive panhandling, interim Police Chief Richard Eddington said at a First Ward meeting March 24.

Eddington’s remarks came as several residents at the meeting spoke about recent encounters with panhandlers.

In the monthly beat report for the downtown ward, Sergeant Tosha Wilson said five batteries were included among the 20 calls for service. Wilson said some of the batteries involved aggressive panhandling which, after an “intense weekend,” has been “on our radar as priority no. 1.”

City worker Gerald Franklin installs a sign Feb. 24 discouraging giving to people on the street. “This is not about general panhandling, but about aggressive panhandling, which is criminal,” said Kelley Gandurski, interim City Manager. Without citing statistics, she said the city is receiving an “uptick” of harassment reports. (Photo by Richard Cahan)

“We’ve been walking around for weeks, and we’ll continue to do so,” Wilson said at the ward meeting, carried over Zoom. “So hopefully you’ll see things changing. There are a lot of workers coming back from working at home. So we’re aware of all of that, trying to keep things in order. So, if you see something, please call and then we can always be a presence.”

Eddington commended the work done by Wilson and the department’s Community Policing unit in partnership with groups such as Trilogy Behavioral Health Care to work with panhandlers, “because we realize there’s a huge overlap between panhandling and mental health issues,” he said.

Eddington noted, as Wilson pointed out, that although there are very few panhandlers who pose a serious offender status, police arrested one man March 23 on an aggravated assault charge. The suspect is currently in Cook County Jail on a $10,000 bond, meaning he has to post a $1,000 to get out, the Chief said.

“My point in bringing this up,” Eddington said, “is when someone does cross the line, there’s a criminal violation that we need to address. We understand we have an array of options at our disposal, and we work very hard at applying the right solutions to all those issues.”

Moving forward, Eddington said, “We anticipate walks downtown [and] foot patrols; [we] want to engage the public in the manner they want us to engage. As we come out of COVID and we get the officers more engaged with the public, we want to focus on things that the public wants, like foot patrol. So that’s where we’re putting our efforts – that’s what we’re attempting to do. We’re attempting to promote the positive visibility of the Police Department.”

One of the speakers at the meeting said there were three occasions in two weeks’ time when he had been approached by individuals who appeared to be very agitated. He asked Eddington about the right response in such situations.

The Chief pointed to the department’s Text-a-Tip service as an option, along with 911.
A Text-a-Tip “goes to our 911 Center and is handled just like a 911 call,” Eddington said. “And I would suggest if you see someone in distress like that, please alert us, because it may be something as simple but as dangerous as a diabetic reaction. There could be some other medical problems that the Evanston Fire Department would be exceptional intervening.”

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.

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