Evanston’s Police Chief Schenita Stewart is still getting to know her hometown residents in her new role.
On Tuesday, she was warmly greeted by some 44 people attending the joint Third and Fourth Ward meeting at the Robert Crown Community Center.
Fourth Ward City Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma introduced her, summarizing her many professional accomplishments and her Evanston roots. But an introduction almost seemed unnecessary as people were eager to meet her.
Stewart tackled the issues of morale and vacancies at the department head on, saying she and others were working with Human Resources to screen resumes and identify candidates for lateral moves. She also said she is working on a confidential survey to her entire department – she wants honest feedback about everything.
She was very clear about the type of police officer she wants in her department, saying “We need the right people. It’s not just about putting bodies in open spots. If it’s not the right person, I don’t want them.”
She elaborated, talking about the changes taking place in police work. She said she wants officers who can talk to people in the community, who can handle tough questions and who are open to criticism.
Relationships and partnershsips
Stewart was also effusive about the officers and staff she has met thus far at EPD. She has been impressed with the quality of the people who are on her team, and the depth and breadth of their experience, from all levels of the organization.
Stewart talked a lot about relationships and partnerships.
“Everything is a partnership. If you are taking your partnership for granted, you have a problem,” she said. She also welcomes new ideas from all sources. She has an open door policy, but only up to a point. She said, “Don’t come to me with your problems. Come to me with solutions.”
Stewart radiates an energetic, positive approach. She said she welcomes being held accountable. City Manager Luke Stowe said he was impressed not only by her qualifications, positivity and local connections, but that she is not afraid to make tough calls.
She believes in a team concept with the city and that we are all in this together. She also said she is humble enough to know that she does not know everything and that she needs advice.
Her stances on some issues
Chronic homelessness is a problem the police confront regularly and one that was discussed at the Fourth Ward meeting, along with the city’s proposed budget. Some homeless people actively resist assistance offered by the nonprofit Connections from the Homeless. Many suffer from severe mental health issues. If they create disturbances or public health hazards, they get arrested.
Stewart is well aware of Evanston’s crime statistics, but cautioned that our problems are not unique, but rather part of bigger trends taking place throughout the country. Prevalence does not make them any less impactful.
Another important issue to Stewart is reaching out to immediate family members of cold case victims. Each of those cases is being reviewed and she plans to establish a new protocol for how the cases are handled. “This is personal for me,” Stewart said.
She is also eager to reach out to Evanston Township High School about internships and apprenticeship programs.
Listening to Stewart talk and answer questions from the audience about police policy, morale, staffing shortages and cold cases was a balm after the budget discussion. Stewart talked much more about the future than the past.
A resident of Evanston for 40 years, Guy Gunzberg, said at the end of the meeting, “We’ve just listened to crisp presentations about the city’s budget and the chief enlightened us about her plans for the EPD in a personal way. I feel proud as a citizen that I live here and we can have these conversations. Thank you.”