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Trisha Connelly (from left), Fortino Leon and Karen Courtright review the list of attributes they would like to see in the city’s next police chief. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

City officials – and reporters, for that matter – were out in more force than residents Wednesday, May 18, at a forum on selecting Evanston’s next police chief.

But the public will have several other chances to weigh in, including another forum on Tuesday, May 24.

Wednesday’s forum at the Robert Crown Community Center was inviting residents’ comments on what qualities they would like in the city’s next police chief. And the half dozen or so residents who participated produced plenty of high-quality ideas – many stressing the need for the next leader to be committed to racial equity and bring strong community engagement and responsiveness skills.

Someone with “an actual open-door policy,” said resident Trisha Connelly, recapping some of the suggestions of her working group, which included fellow residents Karen Courtright and Fortino Leon.

“Responsiveness, answers emails, and someone who has a sense of service, actually getting into the neighborhoods – and that means all neighborhoods,” Connelly emphasized.

Evanston officials encouraged the feedback. The city is entering its the final stages of its search for a new police chief, one of the most critical decisions facing the city, Mayor Daniel Biss said as he opened the forum.

Evanston has been without a permanent police chief since June 2021, when Demitrous Cook retired after close to 2½ years as chief.

Richard Eddington, Evanston’s police chief from 2007 to 2018, has led the department on an interim basis since January.

Connelly and her colleagues also emphasized racial sensitivity – not just a person’s words, “but what’s their track record?”

Continuing the list: “a person of color, a Spanish speaker, somebody who has demonstrated the ability to bring diversity to the table,” she said.

“Training and [the ability] to change the culture of the Police Department, including demilitarizing in the training of police officers,” she said.

Brooke Murphy Roothaan reads from her group’s report at the May 19 forum. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

Seated at another table, resident Brooke Murphy Roothaan’s group talked about the psychological side of the job.

“Someone with a background or experienced CV [curriculum vitae],” with “spiritual, psychological, emotional training,” suggested Roothaan, and “plugged in below the level of conscious” thought.

She also suggested the next person to lead the department should be somebody with “education and community and leadership skills,” as well as the ability to foster a feeling of security.

The next chief will also have to deal with the problems on the table, such as the exit of close to 25 officers who left Evanston for other law enforcement jurisdictions.

“It’s disturbing, and we have a really good police force,”  Roothaan said.

Patricia Santoyo-Marin, a consultant with Envisioning Equity, the firm leading the workshop for the city, said the group has scheduled follow-up sessions on May 24: one focused on the Black community and another from a Latino perspective.

Those wishing to learn more may visit the city’s website or send an email to Alison Leipsiger, the city’s Policy Coordinator, at aleipsiger@cityofevanston.org.

This story has update to clarify quotes from resident Brooke Murphy Roothaan.

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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