Richard Eddington.

Interim Chief Richard Eddington says the Evanston Police Department is currently short 22 officers. That’s about 14% of the department’s authorized level of 157 sworn officers.

Eddington told the City Council’s Human Services Committee Monday night that staffing is a nationwide issue for law enforcement and that the loss of officers in Evanston is related to those broader issues.

One factor, he said, is that, as a result of statewide pension reforms several years ago, most officers now have what’s known as “tier two” pension plans — which mean they can move to another police department in Illinois without losing any pension benefits.

“So we’re in direct competition for salary, benefits and working conditions with other departments,” Eddington said.

Some officers who have left have indicated they feel that with recent “defund the police” protests and staffing cuts by the City Council their work isn’t appreciated in Evanston and they’d rather work in a community where it is more valued.

Eddington said 20 of the 22 officers who have left since January 2019 moved to other police departments.

“That is telling,” Eddington said, adding that the departures range from officers just out of basic training to 11-year veterans of the department.

The chief, who returned on an interim basis in January to the department he had headed for 11 years through 2018, said it will take additional research to determine all the factors that have led to the departures.

“Promotional opportunities are a part of it,” he said, adding that he would look for other issues “that we can address quickly to reduce the flow of experienced, capable officers out the door.”

Eddington added that after several years on the force the department has spent substantial time and money training officers in specialty skills from gun tracing to cell phone record analysis.

“It will be hugely expensive to duplicate that training,” he said, “and great drain on resources for the future.”

The chief said that he has recently worked out a memorandum of understanding about 12-hour shifts for the department with the interim city manager, human resources, the corporation counsel, the department’s command staff and the sergeants and patrol officers units of the Fraternal Order of Police.

He said he hopes the agreement, which will be in effect through the end of the year, will improve working conditions for officers.

“My perception is that it’s a 12-month shakedown cruise to see if 12-hour shifts can work in an organization as large and complex as the Evanston Police Department,” he said, adding that “there are a lot of nuances” to having such a schedule in Cook County that don’t exist elsewhere where 12-hour shifts are used.

He said the department recently has done “exceptional work” in speeding up the process of lateral recruitment — hiring officers who are already on police forces elsewhere.

“It’s the best way to address manpower shortages in the short term,” the chief said, because it eliminates the need to send them to basic training school and shortens the time they have to work on the job here under the supervision of a field training officer.

He also said the department is speeding up its hiring cycle for lateral transfers and advertising for the positions more frequently. “I think we’ll have much better success using this system,” he added.

In response to a question from Ald. Devon Reid (8th), Eddington promised to provide a comparison of crime statistics and police staffing levels over the past several decades for the committee’s meeting next month.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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