City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has presented his proposal for the budget for fiscal year 2018, and it is now up to residents to weigh in, voicing their concerns and support, so that as aldermen deliberate they will have a sense of where the community stands.
No budget with a $6 million shortfall is going to be met with wholehearted enthusiasm, so the fact that certain items have lighted up social media in the past few days reflects a level of involvement not seen in many other places.
We would like to bring up the proposed reduction of 5.3 full-time-equivalent employees (FTEs) in the Police Department’s Social Services Bureau and the transfer of their duties to 2.5 FTEs in the Health and Human Services Department, at a cost savings of $400,000.
While we understand that the new employees will continue to work at Police Headquarters, this is a nuanced proposal, one that bears close attention to ensure that the services now provided will still be provided expertly and efficiently.
The Social Services Bureau at the Police Department provides two types of services to Evanston residents: youth advocacy and victim services. Both offer support and information about what one’s rights are, how to navigate the legal system, and where to connect with outside resources. An advocate within the police department can be crucial to a positive outcome when a youth has a brush with the law. Victim Services helps victims of crime with additional support, explanations of what to expect, and, as with youth, connection to additional resources.
We have no quarrel with moving the responsibility of overseeing these social services workers from the Police Department to the Health and Human Services Department. Evonda Thomas-Smith is a strong, capable, and compassionate leader. We wonder, though, whether a smaller number of employees will be able to provide the same level of service. When a victim’s world has been shattered by violence – especially domestic violence – the Police Department’s Victim Services offers a safe place to talk and to plan without recrimination or judgment.
A RoundTable reporter spoke recently with members of the YWCA-Evanston/North Shore’s legal assistance team at the Skokie Court House, who told her that, from what they have seen, police social workers make a positive difference in the lives of victims of domestic violence. Victims seem to find police social workers more approachable, and this may make the victim feel comfortable enough to talk to the police and open enough to accept help and referrals to such critical resources as shelter and medical care.
Reducing the number of social workers who provide these critical services of youth advocacy and support for victims, we believe, may cost the City more in the long run – more in broken lives, youth thrown in to the criminal justice system, women and children left to confront a cold future on their own – than it will save in the short term.
A recent conversation with Ms. Thomas-Smith was reassuring on several points. She said she would like police social services and certain other types of social services provided by the City to focus on trauma-informed care. She also said community partnerships would have to play a significant role in the shift to the holistic approach of trauma-informed care. While implementing trauma-informed care will be an important addition to the social services provided here, it is critical that this proposed change not leave a gap in services, particularly services to victims of domestic violence.
We ask the City Council to pay careful attention to the changes proposed by Director Thomas-Smith and the personnel reductions proposed by City Manager Bobkiewicz to ensure that victims of crime can be supported.