Evanston aldermen Monday night endorsed an array of policy changes proposed by the police chief and city manager in response to community concerns sparked by two recent controversial arrests.
They also indicated an interest in exploring further changes which might include sometimes hiring an independent investigator, outside the department’s chain of command, to review certain complaints against police.
All nine aldermen and the mayor attended the Human Services Committee meeting at the Civic Center.
The committee also approved a new contract for the department’s diversity and inclusion consultant, Gilo Kwesi Logan. That contract is expected to be approved by the full City Council next Monday.
The policy changes were prompted by the release last month of dramatic video of officers tackling a black Northwestern University graduate student who they mistakenly believed had stolen a car and the arrest last fall of a candidate for city clerk who was collecting nominating petition signatures on a downtown street corner.
Stephanie Moffitt, a PhD candidate in material sciences at NU, said incidents like the arrest of the student, Lawrence Crosby, make other students feel unsafe and harm the school’s ability to attract a talented and diverse student body and produce top-tier research.
Shawn Jones, an attorney and candidate for 9th Ward alderman, said the city needs to reduce the number of police interactions with residents that lead to arrests — because those arrests, even ones that never result in a conviction, impair the ability of people to get a job and earn a living.
Police need to “ease up on their never-back-down strategy,” Jones said, “and stop arresting people for minor offenses.”
Betsy Wilson, founder of the Sentencing Advocacy Group of Evanston, claimed that what she described as “the incredibly low number of complaints filed” against Evanston police “tells us that something is drastically wrong.”
She said it shows that either people don’t know how to access the complaint process or don’t trust it.
The Rev. Michael Nabors of Second Baptist Church complained that the proposed changes had been developed in “a back room” and said “everybody has to sit at the table” to develop revisions.
“It seems like it’s the African-American community versus the Police Department, and that doesn’t make sense in a community like Evanston,” Nabors added.
The 22 policy changes involve:
- Seven revisions to police training practices, including more emphasis on de-escalation tactics,
- Four new transparency efforts, including equipping all officers with body cameras.
- Five changes to citizen police complaint practices, including having professional standards officers hold office hours at the Civic Center to receive complaints.
- Five procedural changes, including adopting the National Consensus Policy on Use of Force.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, in an interview this morning with Evanston Now, said the idea of hiring an independent investigator to review certain police complaints came up in conversations he had with Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward.
He said that, as he envisioned it, the investigator would be called in by the city when the Human Services Committee had additional questions or wanted additional investigation done of a complaint that had already worked its way through the police department’s internal review process.
He said the outside investigator would someone with no affiliation with the Evanston department, but likely a retired officer with internal affairs experience who could come in and review the materials collected during the police department’s investigation.
But beyond that, he said, “the next steps would be murky.”
The ability for an independent reviewer to compell testimony from officers — “we don’t have policies for that,” Bobkiewicz said, and any policy would have to meet rules established by state statutes and collective bargaining agreements.
But he said the outside review he’s exploring would probably cost only “tens of thousands of dollars per year” compared the the $7 million price tag for an indepenent review board proposed by a citizens group that failed to collect enough petition signatures to get its referendum on April’s election ballot.
During the meeting aldermen issued several invitations for people who showed up for the session to add their names to a signup list for possible inclusion on a revamped citizens police advisory committee.