After 44 years in law enforcement, the last 11 as Chief of the Evanston Police Department, Richard Eddington is retiring. In the final weeks of his tenure, he has received accolades from many parts of the City, including a standing ovation at the Dec. 10 City Council meeting.
A few days before his successor, Glenwood Police Chief Demitrous Cook, was announced publicly, Chief Eddington spoke with the RoundTable about policing in Evanston and his focus on reducing the number of crime victims here. Community policing, taking guns off the street and violence prevention were Chief Eddington’s primary ways of working to reduce crime victims.
Police accountability was another topic, as the men and women of the Evanston Police Department every day must work to maintain “the delicate balance between public order and civil liberties.”
“I think we have come a long way in the time I’ve been here,” Chief Eddington said, “but it’s been a joint effort on the part of the community to be open and accepting and listening to what the Police Department is trying to do. … Community policing and taking guns off the street … continue to garner a significant amount of time and attention by the Police Department. I think with the community policing thing we’re reaching out in different ways.”
Outreach by Evanston Police Officers is more than walking the beat or hanging out at a coffee shop. The Officer and Gentlemen Program help middle-school males navigate the tricky waters between youth and adulthood. Several female officers have created a similar program, called STAR, for middle-school girls. These officers created the programs on their own as a way to engage the youth of the community, said Chief Eddington. At the high-school level, the Police Explorers program helps showcase the advantage of a career in law enforcement.
“That’s one of the cool things about working here – the talent that the Chief of Police is surrounded by,” Chief Eddington said.
Preventing Violence and Taking Guns Off the Street
Taking guns off the street and violence prevention go hand in hand, said Chief Eddington, though the one is in the province of only the Police Department and the other is a broad Citywide effort. A decision made by former Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl to “pivot the City’s Parks & Recreation Division into more universal recreational programs that expanded into the evening hours was a huge deal.” The outreach workers from the City’s Youth and Young Adult Programs division are a “key component” in violence prevention. “They are talking with young men and showing them another way to deal with disputes, explore other options than violence.”
As of last month, Chief Eddington said, Part 1 crimes – homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny and arson – were down 7.5% from last year.
Intelligence-based policing: From the Police Department side, said Chief Eddington, reviewing social media platforms is key to the efforts of intelligence-led policing to figure out where and with whom potential danger lies and relaying that information to officers in the field. “This intelligence-led policing allows the police to focus on persons known to be engaged in armed conflict … and pays huge dividends. It’s a whole different direction when the Chief of Police says, ‘Here are some people we know to be involved in this armed conflict’ versus “Go out and find some people with guns.’ And the officers of the Evanston Police Department are sophisticated enough to follow those directions and execute those strategies.”
The Chief also said, “When we focus on those illegal carriers of guns, there’s no need for law enforcement to interact with the majority of the population regardless of age or gender.”
Stop-and-Frisk: Several years ago, and with public announcements, the Evanston Police Department implemented what it termed a “targeted” stop-and-frisk program.
“Let me talk about stop-and-frisk,” Chief Eddington said, “because it’s a huge controversy that unfortunately has several political cowbells tied to it. Police Departments have been doing stop-and-frisk forever. Where this went sideways was as soon as the New York Police Department used stop-and-frisk as a metric for productivity. … One of the issues was the lack of documentation by the New York Police. We at the Evanston Police Department prepare significant documentation for each of those events and follow state law and document why an individual was stopped and frisked. This is not a metric of productivity – we’re saying, ‘These are the people you need to be focused on.’ We’ve taken it out of that New York metric.”
Evanston Police have added another step to stop-and-frisk: talk. Not all stops lead to frisks, the Chief said. Of 1, 739 field contact cards issued last year, only half of those resulted in a frisk, the Chief said.
Stop-and-frisk can be a deterrent to carrying illegal guns, he said. Before shooting someone, a person has to decide to buy a gun and to carry it. “Then if something goes wrong and you’ve made those two other decisions, you now have the ability to use the gun. We try to disrupt those first two decisions and give the message ‘Don’t do this, because we’re going to look for guns. We’re going to stop and frisk you, and you risk being caught with an illegal firearm.’”
Chief Eddington says he believes most of the community is comfortable with the targeted stop-and-frisk program as one strategy for preventing violence. “That’s part of the building blocks for where we’re going, and as part of our success I would point to the infinitesimal number of complaints we have had. I think we had 10 complaints last year that rose to the level of review, and I think one of those touched on a stop-and-frisk issue. If we had 1,700 stops and 1 complaint, I think we are comporting ourselves by and large in ways the community finds to be acceptable.”
The downturn in violent crimes is a result of the synergy among the recreational opportunities, the efforts of the outreach workers and the stop-and-frisk program, Chief Eddington said. He added, though, that it is important that those who choose to carry and use illegal firearms understand there is a consequence to doing so. The incarceration of repeat gun offenders will reduce crimes of violence, he said, adding, “Jail is not the sole answer; we need to provide people with a path to other options.”
Reducing the Number of Crime Victims: Returning to the topic of crime victims, Chief Eddington said, ““As a department, we’re really good at putting cases together, identifying offenders and bringing them to court. That may give some mental solace to a victim, but you’re still a victim. If someone has invaded your home, where you thought you were safe, there is psychological baggage that goes with that. … it’s that ripple effect on the victim that so many people don’t see, that’s below the surface, that’s one reason I feel compelled to direct resources to reduce victimization. So, if we can engage in activities that reduce the amount of victimization, that’s really where we need to go. One of the goals of community outreach is for you to get to how to minimize the chances of your being victimized.”
Where Civil Liberties and Public Order Intersect
Scrutinizing police conduct is not new to the Evanston community, and residents are still struggling with the concept of civilian review of police complaints (story on page 3). Chief Eddington said during his tenure, police took all complaints.
Complaints: “When I got here, there was this urban myth that the Police Department did not take all complaints or did not take all complaints seriously. I knew what the Department of Justice playbook was. This was an easy fix – we’ll take all complaints. ‘You have a complaint? We’ll write it down; we’re gonna look at it.’”
De-escalation training: The State of Illinois mandates de-escalation training, and three officers in the Evanston Police Department train the other officers. The training has been successful, said Chief Eddington: there was a 50% drop in the use of force in the first year after the training was implemented.
The training in de-escalation is coupled with critical-incident training (CIT), which for the most part offers protocols for handling situations when one of the subjects appears to have a mental-health issue. “The de-escalation training and the use of CIT all go hand in hand in with trying to address the extremely complicated situations we propel our officers through on a daily basis,” said Chief Eddington.
Arrests of Minorities: The Crosby case, in which Evanston Police arrested a man for driving a car that the officers had been told might be stolen, is still in court. One result of that case was a change in police polices for handling felony traffic stops. Formerly, the police would order a victim to kneel while being handcuffed. That no longer is the case, he said.
Asked whether he believes the Evanston Police Department has been excessive in its arrest of Black suspects, Chief Eddington said, “I’m always sort of perplexed by this one. Between 56% and 64% of victims of Part 1 crimes in Evanston are African Americans. And I anticipate there will be a disproportionate number of African American offenders based on a citywide population, just like the disproportion of African American victims. … When we get into discussions of race, we have this unique American mindset that it’s a math problem. If 17% of the population is Black, 17% of the criminals should be Black; if 62% of the population is White, 62% of the criminals should be White. It doesn’t work that way. … We really need to take a step back and really look at the data, understand locations and types of crime and understand who the victims are… and one of the things that I have been laser-focused on in my time here is ‘How do we get to fewer victims?’”
In adding to the Crosby case, two cases of arrests of juveniles blazed in the media: one of a youth whose clothing did not match the description given during a home invasion, the other of a youth riding on the pegs of a bicycle in downtown traffic. Chief Eddington said, “I have said before, ‘In a free and democratic society to expect the police to perform error-free is a fantasy.’ … We need to be accountable, we need to explain what happened, what went on. I think that over my time here the community has been relatively accepting based on our ability to go back and say ‘What happened here? What could we have done better? Was there a policy failure involved in this that would have helped prevent this outcome? What can we address in this series of events that will minimize the possibility of misunderstanding in the future?’ We have attempted to do that consistently over time. … Three cases in 11 years? Yes, I’ll take that.”
The Police Department is feeling the pressure of the 24-hour news cycle. “One of the things that I think is important is that in this delicate balance between public order and civil liberties is the critical need to get our version of events out much more quickly than usual,” said Chief Eddington.
Economics will play a major part in policing over the next few years, Chief Eddington said, noting that Evanston has urban crime and a North Shore taste for police services. The community’s openness to residents of different capabilities has resulted in a need for more police services. Chief Eddington said, “In becoming the community we have sought to be, we have been open to and receptive to many populations that consume boatloads of public safety services.” He also said, “I think there’s a balance between the economics of this and the service expectations of the residents. One of the issues that’s going to be an issue in the future is the tax base’s ability to sustain the service level desired. … In the context of the City we’re huge consumers [of public money, but] … when you get to the school districts, we’re lightweights.”
The use of body-worn cameras may change the perceptions of policing, he said, adding, “I think that the public is going to become more appreciative of the aberrant behavior we deal with on a daily basis. … When the public sees what we see on a daily basis that too is going to have a significant impact on this police-community relationship.”
Of the Department he is leaving after 11 years, Chief Eddington said, “There are hugely talented people in this building who understand policing and understand policing in Evanston and understand the need to make policing as efficient as possible.”
Asked about the future, the Chief said, “My wife loves living here. I can say there’s no place that I say I’ve got to get to and leave Evanston.” More policing or leisure? “I’ve gotten a lot of calls. I’ll listen and see how much they will pay me and decide whether I want to do that or go trap shooting and fishing.”