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Aldermen eye civilian police review

Aldermen on Evanston’s Human Services Committee voted Monday to hold a special meeting later this month to consider creating a new citizen review board to examine complaints against city police officers.

The vote came after the city’s new police chief, Richard Eddington, said he was open to creation of such a panel.

“I want to be transparent about this,” Chief Eddington said, “and get down to the bottom line and see what issues are not being addressed by our existing process. We need to see what the community concerns are and how we can deal with these complaints.”

The city already has a civilian review panel that receives a summary of the results of investigations conducted by the department’s Office of Professional Standards after those results have been reviewed by top departmental officials and after any discipline of the officer is imposed by the police chief.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she’s concerned that the citizen panel doesn’t see the complaint “until it’s gone through all of that process. They’re the last step. I sort of wonder what would be wrong with having them get it as soon as the investigation is done, so they’d be first in line?”

Chief Eddington said that the current process is designed to be considerate of the time required of citizen volunteers on the panel. “If no discipline is tied to the incident yet,” he said, “I’m not sure what they’re reviewing. We need to focus on what we want them to do.”

“Ultimately it’s about objectivity,” Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, responded, “When the police department reviews itself, the tendency is to assume that it will not be objective.

“If we’re bringing citizens into the review, they ought to get the initial complaint and ought to be part of the process of discussing how to investigate it,” he added, “When you just show us the finished report, we don’t have anything further to discuss.”

The chief said, “My concern in this area is consistency.” He said the city would need to deal with issues of how long citizens would be expected to serve on the board, how they would be trained, whether they would conduct interviews and what limits there might be on questionning by the citizen panel.

“I’d invite this discussion so we can produce a consistent product all the time,” he said, also noting that the city is constrained by state law regarding the process it can use in handling complaints against police officers.

Several residents spoke in favor of strengthening civilian review of the department.

Bennett Johnson, publisher of the Evanston Sentinel, said, “Everybody in the room wants a police force that preserves order and enforces the law,” but he said the department needs better oversight, “to make sure that we have fewer complaints and fewer lawsuits against the police than we do at present.”

Local school teacher Pat Gregory said, “We need to add another entity, and not have the police being the ones investigating the police. I know Evanston has some great police officers, because I’ve interacted with them. But on the other hand there are a few that, if they think you’re a nobody, that’s how they’ll treat you.”

The committee and the chief agreed immediately to one suggestion from residents — that complaint forms should be available at the Civic Center and other locations in addition to the police department. The residents said some people in the community feel intimidated having to go to the police department to file a complaint against the police.

The committee will hold the special meeting at 7 p.m. on Tueday, June 19, at the Civic Center.

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