EPD Chief Schenita Stewart at NAACP forum.

Evanston Police Chief Schenita Stewart said Monday night that her department is currently taking a look at regulations and policies for pulling people over for traffic stops.

Such stops are once again a nationwide issue following the Memphis beating death of motorist Tyre Nichols last month, which has led to murder charges against five police officers.

Chief Stewart answered questions at a public safety forum sponsored by the local branch of the NAACP, at the Second Baptist Church downtown.

One community member asked the chief that with so many cameras and other technology such as license plate readers, “can you reduce traffic stops to almost nothing?”

While “almost nothing” seems unrealistic, as guns and drugs are often found during what starts out as a routine stop, Stewart still said that EPD is reviewing if any changes in traffic stop policies can be implemented.

She also noted that the number of traffic stops has already declined in recent years.

The Rev. Michael Nabors, president of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP branch, said for Black and brown people traffic stops are “something our white allies should know that we think about every day, 365 days a year.”

Nabors also said today’s younger generation is “very different” than those who grew up 30 or 40 years ago.

He said that while children in the 1950s and 60s were always told to “do what a cop says,” teens and young adults now are more likely to say “I know my rights. What did I do wrong?”

Nabors argued that today’s police officers should “not be offended if a 16-year-old raises his voice.”

De-escalation in cases like that, he noted, is critical.

Nabors also stressed that there has been a declaration of shared principles by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the NAACP, calling for transparency and trust-building.

Chief Stewart said that “accountability is huge.”

“When there is officer misconduct,” she added, that officer must receive the appropriate disciplinary measure or even prison if necessary.

Stewart and Nabors both agreed that community education is critical, so police officers and often marginalized Black and brown communities get to know each other better.

Stewart also said the school resource officers stationed at Evanston Township High School are now wearing civilian clothing like detectives, instead of patrol uniforms. The idea is to help build rapport with students, while still having a police presence.

The chief seems to be off to a good start in Evanston. One audience member said the EPD is doing a “wonderful job,” and many of the 75 others at the event broke into applause.

Stewart said the city’s new police contract should help recruit more officers, thanks to a pay hike. EPD, she said, had been “gutted” in recent years as officers left for better paying departments, or communities where they felt more appreciated.

Stewart also said that despite efforts at bridge-building, sometimes police work may not look very pretty.

When one community member asked about “militarization of policing,” Stewart said “you’ve still got real crime in Evanston. Either you want the police or you don’t.”

There may be minor nuisance calls, she added, “or there could be a shooting like a couple of years ago on Howard Street, where you need heroic police officers to respond.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  1. Traffic stops can be good thing. Ridge Avenue, especially coming off Howard Street, has become a speedway. And the normal flow of traffic seems to be between 30 and 35 mph. So much for reducing the legal limit to 25 mph on Ridge.

    I would encourage more stops for speed and distracted (cell phone) driving. And keep up the excellent work in stopping DUI drivers.

  2. Enforcing the rules of the road and issuing citations is 100% necessary to keep Evanston roads safe and keep drivers in compliance with the law. Minor offenses can receive a warning, but blatantly dangerous driving, staring at cell phones while driving, which I see EVERY DAY in Evanston, needs a citation. However, I completely disagree with searching vehicles as a result of traffic stop, looking for drugs and guns. It is a traffic stop, not a drug bust, so give a traffic ticket and move on! And these tactics, I’m sure, are used overwhelmingly in marginalized parts of the city on black and brown drivers, and not on white, high-income drivers (who also BTW sometimes have drugs on them and guns on them without a concealed carry license). Keep in mind that if officers are direct and respectful with the ALL residents, and not ultra authoritative, they will have much better interactions during stops, and all resident interactions. I know that many if not most of EPD tries to be respectful and wants good outcomes from interactions. If the goal is public safety, the roads are currently not safe since drivers know there is little to no traffic law enforcement going on and drivers are maliciously taking advantage of the situation. Kids and pedestrians will get hit, bicyclists will get hit, drivers will get hurt unnecessarily until traffic law enforcement briskly picks up across the city.

  3. Reverend Nabors: You should know that mouthing off to cops irrespective of the circumstances, whether you’re 16 or 26 often does not end well.

    1. Maybe not historically, but he’s right that cops should be trained to deescalate as long as the confrontation remains verbal-only.

  4. As usual the knee-jerk feeling based crowd is at it again in Evanston. Traffic stops aren’t the problem. The overwhelming majority of traffic stops don’t end like the one in TN. Please stop conflating every headline your read as the norm rather than the outlier that it is. Traffic stops are the main way that illegal guns are confiscated. I’m not ok with scaling back on that.

    1. You hit it on the head. Yeah, let’s just have a knee jerk reaction and let everyone drive anyway they wish and while they’re at it let them point guns out the window with a bong in the other hand. Give me a break. If I’m ever pulled over with illegal things in my possession, I don’t expect it to be a pleasant experience.

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