What is the job of the Citizen Police Review Commission?

This question was at the core of an estimated 40-minute-long debate among commissioners and city staff during its Wednesday, March 1, meeting.

The debate led some commissioners to suggest the city ordinance that created the commission should be changed to widen its scope.

Commissioners and city staff alternated between conversations surrounding the commission’s purpose and tense exchanges regarding the intersection of race and police.

“I understand it’s a different process, so it’s not up to us to decide what our charge is,” said commissioner Scott Fishman. “But I think it might be up to us to make recommendations to the City Council and the mayor and saying, ‘This is what the original charge was. And having now two years under our belt, and having a lot of conversations, the charge has changed.'”

How the debate began

Dave Stoneback, deputy city manager, brought up an email that commissioner Samuel Jones sent to fellow commissioners in February. (Stoneback is not on the committee but attends meetings as a city representative.)

The Citizen Police Review Commission elected Samuel Jones and Kate Watson Moss as co-chairs. Credit: Gina Castro

The email described Jones’ eyewitness account of a Black man being arrested by white Evanston Police Department officers.

Stoneback said he thought the email might have led to a violation of the Open Meetings Act. But since no commissioner responded to the email, no violation occurred, Stoneback said. (The email was never shared with the public nor was it on the meeting agenda.)

Stoneback said he felt in sending the email Jones was operating outside of the commission’s duties, which is why he added to the meeting agenda a review of the powers and duties of the commission (as found in the ordinance).

“In my humble opinion, the commission should not be trying to direct the police how to police, or how to respond to an incident,” Stoneback said. “We only should be making the determination upon an internal investigation, prior to final decision on discipline, and that is what the scope of this commission is for.

“If the commissioners want to change what that scope is, then they should be talking to the mayor or the City Council members.”

Detailed review of the ordinance

Jones was surprised to hear there was an issue with the email, which led the commissioners to review and debate the ordinance.

Commissioner Blanca Lule said she was concerned about Jones’ email for similar reasons.

“We can’t go around the city of Evanston finding the police officers doing or what we perceive to not be doing their job, and then want to address it in an email or anywhere else,” Lule said.

She explained the commission is supposed to review citizen complaints and the police investigation of those complaints.

Jones said his purpose in sending the email was to highlight particular EPD training and policies that the commission should review, not to dictate how officers should police, which he said is consistent with the ordinance.

He summarized the incident he described in the email: “From a human rights perspective, I don’t think you really understand what I saw. I saw nine police vehicles on Oakton [Street]. I saw a Black male on the street, raining outside, with no coat on, on the ground. Just white gentlemen standing over [him]. All of these police officers were standing around. He had his hands behind his back. But I couldn’t understand. I don’t know what he did, and I am not blaming EPD. I’m saying the optics raise serious questions.

“It was shocking to see that happening. The only thing I did was send this email, while it was fresh on my mind.

“Now let’s look at the last sentence of my email,” Jones said, reading from his phone: “‘This scene raises serious questions about EPD responses, procedures, suspect safety and vehicle patrol areas of responsibilities. At a minimum, I think the CPRC [Citizen Police Review Commission] needs to discuss, at least from a training lens, if not a accountability lens.'”

Jones noted that at last month’s meeting the commission went beyond reviewing complaints and investigations, sending a letter of recommendations to the police chief.

What should the duties be?

This discussion led the commissioners to question the commission’s duties and limitations. Commissioner Cindy Reed seemed almost surprised to read what was in the ordinance.

“As a commissioner, I’m only reviewing what the police has presented to me,” Reed said. “What about the resident? How can I be fair, if I’m only looking at one side to determine if the internal investigation was fair? I’m only looking at one side, I’m not looking at a more broad perspective.”

Commissioner Kate Watson Moss pointed out that attendance at commission meetings is a qualification for commissioners, yet there are commissioners who are consistently absent. Watson Moss and Jones, the two newest members, joined the commission in November.

“This is my fourth meeting, and there’s still one commissioner who I have yet to meet,” Watson Moss said, referring to Nikko Ross, currently in his second term on the commission. Stoneback and commission chair Nyika Strickland said they both reached out to Mayor Daniel Biss, who appoints commissioners, about Ross’ absences.

The Citizen Police Review Commission ended the meeting with an election for its new chair. Jones and Watson Moss tied, so the commission made them co-chairs. Strickland will be leaving the commission once her term ends in June, she said.

Gina Castro

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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  1. Commissioner Jones please run for office! We need you.

    This is absurd to put it mildly. So, if a Commissioner observes: an EPD officer kneeling on an unarmed defenseless man’s neck for over 9 minutes; or choking an unarmed defenseless man to death as the man cries, “I can’t breathe;” or 5 EPD officers viciously beating a defenseless unarmed man as he cries for his mother; and thereafter, emails a request to discuss “training” at the next meeting, the CPRC has to debate whether a training discussion goes outside its scope even though it sends recommendations to the police chief on matters it deems important? It seems to me some people need implicit bias training and Commissioner Jones should be commended.

    Even the ordinance requires “training” and that the CPRC improve citizen and police interactions! What a bizarre claim. I agree with the other commentators. Excellent leadership, Commissioner Jones.

  2. Commissioner Jones is totally on point.

    There is a constant need to discuss training to avoid the recurrence of troublesome incidents involving EPD and to ensure the CPRC is actually taking steps to improve how EPD interacts with citizens.

    Some time ago, EPD was forced to revisit its procedures for responding to student crisis and modify the role and training of District 65 SROs because rumor had it that at least one EPD officer was aggressive with 1st grade boy. Well guess his race.

    Then there was the Tobin case. EPD supposedly seized a man’s truck for a misdemeanor when the law clearly required a felony and a judge made them return it. C’mon. These EPD officers are some of the highest paid officers in Illinois, some making $160,000 a year for doing what again? And they are offended that a commissioner saw something and wants to discuss training?

    How about letting Commissioner Jones do his job, even thougj he is serving for free. I mean a debate over whether he broke a rule by asking to discuss training, which is required under the rule???? Really? Who came up with that nonsense…Karen?

    Commissioner Jones did what the CPRC should have been doing all along, which is identifying potential training needs regarding procedures and asking for a discussion so that training is current and proper.

    Salute to Commissioner Jones (Thank you for your service)

  3. I am so tired of Evanston police targeting Black men. Commissioner Jones is right.

    EPD has a troublesome history regarding its interactions with Black men. We taxpayers had to pay $1.25 million to Lawrence Crosby, a Black male doctoral student at Northwestern, because EPD stopped his car and instead of merely asking him questions like they would do a White person, they reportedly tackled and beat him viciously.

    Then there is the case of Ronald Louden who filed a federal lawsuit after EPD allegedly smashed his face into the ground. There have been at least 25 lawsuits against EPD because of reported grave violence against Black people, particularly Black men. EPD even arrested a 12-year Evanston Black boy for merely riding on the back of a bike, something White kids openly do in Evanston. Even the City Council was outraged by EPD over that arrest.

    The problem is that too many, if not most, EPD officers do not live in Evanston. They do not respect Evanston’s racial diversity, and their behavior is indicative of a dangerously unchecked bias against Blacks in Evanston, especially males.

    So now we have a Black male Commissioner who happens to be a decorated retired military veteran and highly respected public servant serving on the CPRC, who merely asked that the CPRC have a discussion about training after he personally witnessed a possible human rights violation of a Black male by EPD, who has a history of levying unnecessary violence or abuse of authority against Black males, including 12 years old boys. And we are supposed to believe his mere question goes outside the scope of the CPRC? Huh?

    I am not the smartest person on the planet but that sounds stupid. Commissioner Jones is clearly right and EPD and the City Hall need to get onboard with improving their treatment of Black Evanstonians. We should not have to pay $1.25 million because EPD chooses to abuse Evanston Blacks. It’s reprehensible. Commissioner Jones deserves an apology.

  4. This seems like a case of not having enough work to do. Commissioner Jones is 100% correct and kudos to the CPRC for electing him co-chair of the CPRC.

    I just visited the CPRC website and the stated “purpose” of the CPRC under section D clearly is “to provide a systematic means to achieve continuous improvement in citizen and police interactions.” Jones is obviously correct. If the CRPC is not taking steps to discuss training as the Jones email calls for, it certainly isn’t satisfying its purpose under Section D, which is a public declaration to all of us Evanstonians that the CRPC is suppose to be taking steps to improve citizen police interactions. Is Jones the only one on the CPRC that understands that Improvements cannot occur without discussions and recommendation, which is what Commissioner Jones obviously took the initiative to note.

    What is hilarious about the so called “debate” is that the ordinance further states that the “City Manager’s Office” and Police shall develop “training and continuing education for the Commission.” So Commissioner Jones asking a member of the City Manager’s office via email for a discussion about CPRC “training” needs is 100% consistent with the ordinance. There is no debate to be had.

    It might be me, but I think some people are biased, or at least insensitive, and cannot appreciate that the CPRC has a new Commissioner in Jones, who is proactive, courageous, and willing to call for tough discussions about training in response to possible human rights violations. Commissioner Jones should be commended for his leadership.

    Evanston needs leaders like Commissioner Jones, which is why he was elected co-chair in the very same meeting where this seemingly intense but unnecessary “debate” occurred. Good job, Commissioner Jones.

    Now, can you please ensure the CRPC has real work to do so we don’t have to read about silly debates and drama? And is anybody going to address the incident that sparked your request for a training discussion or will that be ignored by the Mayor, Police Chief, City Manager office, Evanston NAACP, the ACLU, and the DOJ? It seems to me that this so called “debate” might have been a ploy to deflect attention away from the real issue here because it is very clear that Commissioner Jones is acting consistent with the purpose and scope of the CPRC and its training mandate and there is no debate about it.

    Kudos to Commissioner Jones.