Richard Eddington.

Evanston’s interim police chief, Richard Eddington, told 1st Ward residents Thursday night that the department is starting a campaign to address problems of aggressive panhandling downtown.

Eddington said the campaign will start with enhanced foot patrols in which officers will work with employees from Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare to explain to people panhandling in the area what the city restrictions are on aggressive panhandling and to offer counseling and other services.

Enforcement, he said, would ramp up slowly, “so if we have to take enforcement action we’ll have a well-grounded track record of warning the individual and offering services first.”

“To be blunt,” the chief added, “This is a hot-button issue in Evanston, and we need to handle it absolutely correctly.”

Asked why panhandling seems to be a recurring problem downtown, Eddington said, “People do things because it works out for them.”

One thing Evanston has, he added, is “a large student population that’s more than willing to give sizable amounts of cash to these individuals.” So the panhandlers keep showing up.

One part of the anti-panhandling effort, the chief added, is to educate students to more appropriate ways to give, through agencies that work to address issues of homelessness.

“The attempt is to shut off the money spigot to panhandlers and instead have people donate to service organizations that will help these individuals,” he said. “That’s money better spent, I believe.”

While asking for money has been ruled to be constitutionally protected speech by the U.S. Supreme Court, chasing after people or threatening them if they don’t give are among the activities that can legally lead to arrest.

Eddington, who told at City Council committee earlier this month that the department is running 22 short of its authorized level of 157 sworn offices, said he’s seeing some success with efforts to fill some of those positions by hiring officers already working in other departments.

That, he said, avoids the hiring delay caused by having to have new candidates go through the required basic training program.

But in the meantime the department has had to make significant changes to its level of services.

For example, he said, Evanston used to staff its detective bureau seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Now the bureau is only staffed five days a week.

He said that to some extent the pandemic has helped reduce the pressure on the department. With fewer people out and about, there haven’t been as many calls for service.

“But as we come out of the pandemic,” he said, “the pressure on officers will increase as they attempt to meet the increased demand for service.”

He said officers are now working 12-hour shifts, under an agreement negotiated between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Under that plan, he said, officers work two or three 12-hour days in a row, and then get a similar number of days off on a schedule that repeats on a two-week cycle.

“I hope that schedule will be helpful for officers to balance their work and home life needs,” the chief added.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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3 Comments

  1. Agree – Chicago & Main is little out of control. Guys knocking on car windows, going right up to people and blocking their path on the sidewalk.

    We get it – people need help and we’re all willing to help but we have services in our city to help. Cash doesn’t help them, in enables them.

    Give them food if you really want to give them something. Better yet, give them a job if you can. Have them wash a store window for $10 if they want money.

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