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Who polices Evanston?

It might seem like an obvious question, but the real answer extends far beyond who drives the cruisers down city streets. A wide variety of departments at every level – local, county, regional, state and federal – have a hand in the city’s law enforcement operations.

Here is a rundown of the nine primary police departments and organizations active in Evanston.

Local law enforcement

Evanston shares its local policing duties between multiple departments with different jurisdictions.

Evanston Police Department

The city’s primary law enforcement agency is, of course, the Evanston Police Department. Begun in 1863 with Police Officer Robert Simpson, the department as of July 2022 has 128 sworn officers and 47 civilian support staff. These numbers are significantly lower than the budgeted staff of 154 officers and 53 civilians, as the department continues to grapple with an ongoing shortage as officers retire or transfer to other departments.

The Evanston Police Department has a number of specialized divisions, including a traffic bureau, a community policing unit and a special operations group focused on “illegal drug sales and gang related issues” and “current or frequent crime patterns.” With the retirement in June 2021 of Police Chief Demitrous Cook, former Chief Richard Eddington was brought in as of Jan. 3 to lead the department in the interim as the city searches for a new permanent chief.

Northwestern Police

Located in Northwestern’s Department of Safety and Security and headed by Chief Bruce Lewis, the University Police have law enforcement jurisdiction on and around both the Evanston and Chicago campuses. As of November 2020, the department was made up of 38 sworn officers, 20 civilian community services officers, 43 contract security employees and nine dispatch operators.

In Evanston, the University Police are headquartered at 1201 Davis St., and a city-university agreement extends their jurisdiction to Evanston’s city limits to the north, Lake Michigan to the east, Lake Street to the south and Asbury Avenue and Green Bay Road to the west. NU police officers have the full powers of municipal police officers, except that the city assumes jurisdiction over all death investigations.

Metra Police

Led by Chief Joseph Perez, the Metra Police Department’s more than 140 officers have jurisdiction over people and property located on the company’s trains, railways and train yards. Unlike Northwestern police, Metra police have control over all death investigations separate from EPD, such as the recent death on the tracks north of the Central Street station.

Mutual aid organizations

EPD is a member of several intergovernmental “mutual aid” organizations that help in special circumstances.

Northern Illinois Police Alarm System

Founded in 1983, NIPAS is a “police mutual aid” organization made up of more than 100 suburban police departments across the Chicagoland area. Members agree to pool resources and personnel to others’ jurisdictions upon request for “any situation its command staff believes the agency cannot handle with its own resources.” 

NIPAS has three components:

  1. A “car plan” that sends regular officers and vehicles to respond to natural disasters.
  2. A Mobile Field Force of crowd control officers to respond to protests and other large public gatherings.
  3. An Emergency Services Team of SWAT officers to respond to active shooters, hostage crises and other tactical situations.

Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System

ILEAS is a “consortium of more than 900 local governments” focused on statewide training and resource sharing, created in 2002 in response to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The 13-acre ILEAS Training Center in Urbana provides courses to SWAT teams, Mobile Field Forces, the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, the Illinois State Police and a variety of police departments across the state.

ILEAS also has its own Mobile Field Forces similar to NIPAS, spread across eight regions of the state. Evanston sits in Region 4 with Lake County, DuPage County and the rest of Cook County. These teams, and much of ILEAS’s operations in general, are primarily funded by homeland security grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Northern Regional Major Crimes Task Force

NORTAF is a standing task force of police who assist with investigations of major crimes such as homicides and non-parental kidnappings in 13 north suburban communities. Most recently, NORTAF has helped investigate the homicide of Servando Hamros on July 14 and the shooting on Fowler Avenue on July 25.

NORTAF also has Major Crash Assistance Teams (MCAT) that specialize in investigating fatal or severe vehicle accidents. MCATs are composed of one crash reconstructionist, two crash investigators and a number of forensic specialists.

Higher jurisdictions

Local police are at the bottom of a ladder of jurisdictions, but the higher rungs still play an active part in day-to-day police work.

Cook County Sheriff’s Office

The CCSO, currently headed by Sheriff Tom Dart, was created in 1922 and is the second-largest sheriff’s department in the country. In addition to being the primary police force for the more than 100,000 people living in unincorporated parts of Cook County, it also runs the Cook County Jail in Chicago, provides security for all 17 county courthouses and serves warrants and eviction orders.

Illinois State Police

The ISP was also created in 1922 and provides a variety of high-level law enforcement services for the entire state. This includes conducting highway patrols, issuing firearm owner identification (FOID) cards and concealed carry licenses, running the state’s sex offender registry and AMBER alert system and transporting and protecting the governor of Illinois.

The state police also regularly help local law enforcement, both directly and indirectly. ISP deploys four SWAT teams to respond to significant active threats as needed, and six labs provide forensic analysis services (such as DNA, ballistics and toxicology) to investigators across the state. It also provides training and grant funding to local police departments and maintains the Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, a “fusion center” that aggregates and shares intelligence for all Illinois police departments.

Federal law enforcement

Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security all play roles in Evanston’s local policing. FBI agents assist with investigating high-level crimes, such as the Bank of America robbery of 2011.

The DOJ and DHS offer more indirect support, usually in the form of federal grants for sustaining and expanding police operations. EPD and Northwestern UP’s piloting of body-worn cameras in 2017 was funded by a DOJ grant, and the purchase of an unmanned drone for EPD and EFD in 2020 was funded by a grant from the DHS’s Urban Areas Security Initiative.

Alex Harrison

Alex Harrison joins the RoundTable for the summer in between his undergraduate and graduate studies at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. Thanks for the clarification, Ms. Schultz. Also, thanks to the EPD and other cooperative departments for helping keep us safe.

  2. Policing? Really? Policing does not keep us safe. Policing is often state-sanctioned violence. It was in Urbana. Carol Mitten didn’t see it. Evanston residents did. Evanston’s current rate: over $50 million /year. There are better ways to spend that kind of $.

    1. Dear Jennifer, But for one proper name, I don’t think this article mentions safety. Nor is it tied to the city manager search. It is simply a reference for people of all of the law enforcement agencies that are involved in policing Evanston. We started this summer and will continue to do a number of basic, what we call “101” articles about government and structure in Evanston, such as the one we did for parents on ETHS. We have another one coming out on city committees and boards soon. They are just an ongoing effort to keep people informed. This one sprang from the staffers who covered what unfolded in Highland Park after the mass murders. Our staff had to figure out all the levels of law enforcement involved and figured the public would benefit from knowing the same about Evanston’s resources.
      Susy Schultz, editor RoundTable.