A survey by the Equity and Empowerment Commission found that 67% of Black participants had little to no confidence in the Evanston Police Department’s ability to treat Black, Indigenous and people of color the same as white people. 

Karla Thomas, co-chair of Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Commission, at the recent meeting on the 5th Ward school campus. Credit: Richard Cahan

The results also show that almost 50% of each racial demographic surveyed have little to no confidence in the EPD treating BIPOC and white people equally.

The survey, which launched in April this year, collected 655 responses. The commission reviewed only a portion of the results from its first-ever community survey during its Thursday, Dec. 15, meeting, because the complete analysis is not finished. Yet the commission was already clear how the results could inform city policies and practices.

“We actually get to see what areas of our communities are most struggling so that as the city has policies and efforts and plans and projects and whatever they are, they can actually be targeted,” commission co-chair Karla Thomas said.

The commission also discussed potential plans to review referrals submitted to the city’s referrals committee with an equity lens. Thomas brought up the idea of applying an equity scorecard to proposed referrals to help the committee and, ultimately, the City Council, determine if the policy is racially equitable. 

Parallel survey findings

Not surprisingly, the community survey echoes another survey reported in the Friday, Dec. 16 edition of The Evanstonian, Evanston Township High School’s school newspaper, which was entirely devoted to safety.

While the high school’s survey does not focus on the Police Department, it reinforces the idea of the racial disparity in how safe people feel in the community.

Ahania Soni, executive editor of the Evanstonian, wrote: “According to the 5Essentials survey, a yearly survey schools distribute to determine how well they are doing across five core elements of the school experience as determined by researchers at the University of Chicago, Black students at ETHS have reported feeling the most unsafe at school out of any racial group the survey accounts for over the last four years.

“Black ETHS students’ responses to questions about safety in and around school yielded a score of 36 from 5Essentials, compared to white ETHS students’ score of 45. To put it clearly, over the last four years, Black students have consistently reported feeling the least safe out of any racial group at ETHS.”

Equity survey

The Equity and Empowerment Commission’s survey also shows participants are being pushed out of the city due to rising housing costs. Participants who made less than $25,000 a year reported at 58%, the highest rate, that they themselves or family members moved out of Evanston in the past three years due to housing costs.

Fifth Ward residents also reported at the highest rate that they felt they wouldn’t be able to afford housing in Evanston in the next five years.

The commission is working on analyzing the survey results by taking a closer look at the answers based on specific demographics of participants such as income, ward and race. Commission co-chair Thomas plans to finish analyzing the survey by next month’s meeting.

The commission plans to conduct the survey in English and Spanish every two years.

Equity scorecard

In September, the city’s Human Services Commission recommended the Equity and Empowerment Commission review the city’s public nudity ordinance. It found many equity issues with the ordinance, which resulted in the City Council voting to update the ordinance to be gender-neutral, as advised by the commission.

Now, the commission is hoping to keep applying an equity lens to referrals submitted to the referrals committee to assess the ideas for racial equity concerns. 

If the referral requires an equity review, the commission will then determine the level of harm through a color system of red, yellow and green, with red indicating the most harmful equity issues, yellow indicating concerns theat do not rise to the highest level and green indicating the referral is equitable by the commission’s standards. 

The commission will first have to draft an ordinance and have the City Council approve the color system before moving forward.

Thomas explained that she hopes this equity scorecard process would establish a partnership between the referrals committee and the commission to meet the city’s racial equity goals. “This is an opportunity for us to build into the system an equity review,” Thomas said. 

The commission closed out the meeting with a brief brainstorming session about issues it would like to focus on in the next year. One – affordable housing – will be a continued focus in the new year.

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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