The three candidates to become Evanston’s new police chief generally agreed in their responses to questions about their strategies for the department in separate interviews Thursday night.
The questions — posed by Sol Anderson, executive director of the Evanston Community Foundation — were compiled from ones submitted to the city by residents.
Migdalia Bulnes, a deputy chief in the Chicago Police Department, said rebuilding Evanston Police Department’s staff would be her “number one priority” if she were named chief.
She said the first choice would be to recruit people from the community.
Asked about the impact of short-staffing on the morale of remaining officers, Bulnes said, “morale comes from how they’ve been treated. “
“With clear communication,” she added, “they’ll do what you want.”
The department now is 27 officers below its current authorized strength of 154 and has another nine officers on light duty.
Joshua Hunt, chief of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Investigations Bureau, said the current short-staffing is “dangerous to the community and to officers.”
He said he would work with the city government to examine pay scales, because “Evanston has lost a lot of officers to neighboring departments.”
He said the city needs to learn “what made those communities so much more attractive.”
Then, he said, he would need to have “tough conversations with the officers who are still here” about what would keep them here or drive them away.
He suggested that expanding the use of unarmed community service officers for minor issues could “free up time for sworn officers to proactively focus on public safety.”
Schenita Stewart, deputy chief of police in the Village of East Dundee, agreed that staffing is “the number one issue” for the department.
“EPD is losing members that have a lot of experience,” she said.
Stewart, who grew up in Evanston, added, “My family has been affected by gun violence, and you have to have the staffing in place to deal with the issue.”
“This is an unbelievable police department” that last year stopped an active shooter, she said, adding that the city “needs to let them know they’re appreciated.”
None of the candidates offered specific numbers for what they believe the appropriate staffing level for the police department would be.
One citizen question that Anderson posed to each of the candidates included a false claim that the city’s police budget “has nearly quadrupled” over the past 20 years.
In fact, city budget documents from this year and from two decades ago show that the budget for police operations and pension costs has roughly doubled during that time — from just under $20 million to just under $40 million.
The comparison is made somewhat hard to track because of differing ways the pension expense was presented in different budget years.
But during the past 20 years the city’s total annual spending has increased from $145 million to $360 million — an increase of nearly 150% — or a significantly larger increase than the growth in the city’s spending on police protection.
All the candidates said they support having a civilian police oversight board, that they believe volunteer police chaplains are an important asset, that school resource officer programs are valuable, that chief needs to actively engage with the community and that they would work to end over-policing of minority communities.
A video recording of the nearly three-hour-long session is expected to be posted soon on the city’s YouTube channel.