Police Chief Schenita Stewart says police and other agencies face an array of challenges in dealing with the apparently increasing number of mentally ill and homeless people in Evanston.

“It’s not illegal to be crazy,” Stewart told residents at The Mather Wednesday afternoon. “It’s not illegal to want to harm yourself. No law says you have to be sane.”

“We have to have something criminal done to arrest you, have to have probable cause,” she added.

Stewart, who’s 49, said that when she was young and growing up in Evanston she had experience with mental health issues in her own family.

Some of the roughly 50 people who heard the chief speak.

“We’d be told ‘Daddy’s going to be gone for a little bit, he’s not doing well.’ Then he’d be back home and ‘Daddy’s fine,” she said.

“We had facilities then that dealt with that. We don’t have those any more. State and federal funds and resources are gone, so we have a lot more people (with mental health issues) in public.”

Asked about proposals under consideration to send social workers rather than police officers to respond to mental health calls, Stewart said she favors a co-responder model that would have police respond along with social workers.

“You can’t replace police officers,” Stewart said. “That’s defunding, no matter how you try to call it. But we can co-exist and do this together.”

Stewart, who’s nine-and-a-half months into her job heading the Evanston department, said, it was down 28 officers when she arrived and still has 20 unfilled positions.

A resident asks the chief a question.

She says the city was losing officers because it wasn’t paying them well enough. She helped negotiate a new four-year contract that gives patrol officers an 18% pay hike the first year with 3% increases each year after that.

“We’re not like other suburbs,” Stewart said. “We have real crime — carjackings, armed violence. And our pay didn’t show that. It didn’t show we respected the officers.”

Stewart says it’s taking time to fill the vacant positions because “we want to get the right people coming here to police the city. We need the same core values.”

Beyond pay, another issue in recruiting officers, the chief indicated, has been Evanston’s undersized, 74-year-old police station.

Stewart says she wants a new station, but doesn’t care where it’s located.

“I don’t care if it’s on one end of town or the other,” she said. “Put it wherever the land is.”

“We shouldn’t be responding from the station,” she added. “After roll call you should be on the street on your beat.”

Update 8:50 p.m. 7/27/23: Chief Stewart this evening emailed the following note regarding her word choice at Wednesday’s meeting:

“I apologize for my insensitive word choices referring to those living with mental illness.
My intent was to communicate the limits of police authority and convey my belief that those facing mental health issues should not be policed based on their illness. Moving forward, I will be more thoughtful with my language.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Oh that’s not a wise response from the chief of police. Society is trying to take steps to improve our view of mental health. Senator Fetterman spoke out about his hospitalization for depression. Others are writing books about their addictions and struggles and now she uses the word “crazy”. All lives matter police chief

    1. True. But the problem specifically with Evanston is that Connections lures the homeless here with promises of services, including lodging at the Margarita Inn. Most residents of the Margarita suffer from some form of mental illness (many also with addiction issues), but even though mental health services are ostensibly part ot the “rich wrap – around services” of which Connections boasts, no one is *required* to address their mental health issues as part of the “program” at the Margarita. As a result, very few Margarita guests have the incentive to address their mental health issues – and we see the results in our neighborhood…

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident and former Connections for the Homeless employee

      1. Correct me if I am wrong but I don’t believe Connections is licensed to provide mental health care. If that is correct Connections should not be caring for mental health issues.

        1. Connections employs three Clinical Social Workers (with LCSW degrees; training is rigorous) that are authorized to treat clients; one is on staff at the Margarita Inn, another works at Hilda’s Place, and CFTH Chief Programs Officer Tina White also has LCSW licensure. Additionally, Connections refers clients to outside agencies such as Trilogy for mental health care…


          “Clinical social work is a specialty practice area of social work which focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness, emotional, and other behavioral disturbances. Individual, group and family therapy are common treatment modalities. Social workers who provide these services are required to be licensed or certified at the clinical level in their state of practice…”

          Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

          1. I stayed in the margarita I reached out to them for help with my mental I love love love Tina she is amazing she is a former domestic abuse counselor and while I was in margarita I was in a relationship with a narcissist and I was beat almost every day . The counselor they have at margarita I felt no connection with them and I couldn’t form a bond or feel comfortable speaking with them so I chose not to address my mental health.

      2. I agree 100 percent!! Still for a person in her position to use the word “crazy” deserves to be called out on that

  2. The Chief is right. It’s not against the law to be crazy. But we are not talking about laws, we are talking about manners.

    The vagrants, panhandlers, addicts, drunks, criminals and the mentally ill that are increasingly populating our city – seemingly with the OK of the council, the mayor, the city manager and city staff – are antithetical to our Evanston community of caring people. Every single day they display a vast array of antisocial behaviors – sometimes aggressively and occasionally criminally – that tear away at the fabric of our city.

    If an Evanstonian is in crisis, Evanston will help them, that’s the kind of community we are. But these vagrants, panhandlers, addicts, drunks, criminals and mentally ill that Connections are importing to our city don’t want a hand up. What they want is a hand out — in perpetuity — and in return they dirty and blight our city.

    I am fed up with Connections. It is time for them to go, and one way or another that will happen. Either by Betty Bogg of Connections seeing the light, Halim winning his lawsuit, or by upcoming city council elections. Mayor Biss will never be re-elected, city manager Luke Stowe (who doesn’t even live in Evanston) needs to go.

    I’d also replace six of the aldermen if I were king with only Clare Kelly, Bobby Burns, and Tom Suffredin left in place. I don’t always agree with these three but at least they are smart, always prepared, and care about Evanston.

    1. I wouldn’t be so sure Biss won’t be re-elected. D65 is a hot mess and the incumbent board is still there. It will take a concerted campaign and some good alternative candidates. And, let’s face it, showing progressive bona fides is a blood sport in Evanston. Biss is the grand champion.

    2. Yeah. “Manners” is often such a coded word for tone-policing race/class, but it’s up to the collective us – citizens, leaders, government, etc – to figure out what we want and what we don’t want. And then find a way (not necessarily arresting everyone we don’t like!) to enforce the boundaries of behavior.

      Catcalling / whistling / shouting gendered slurs at women isn’t illegal, but is that the society we want to live in? Blowing stop signs may as well not be illegal either since the police can’t have eyes everywhere, and we now live in a place where everyone cruises through stop signs even with senior crossings! Is this behavior we want to encourage? Do you want your grandma to cross the street in Evanston?

      We, collectively, have crossed the line from tolerance to lazy permissiveness, and this toothpaste probably isn’t going back into the tube. I think Evanston’s kook ‘leadership’ has stumbled on a great way to accelerate class differences, because everyone I know who has the means is leaving.

      1. Specifically, with homeless and social services clients, a major issue is the trendy “Harm Reduction” model of social work. This does not “require” a client to do anything, everything is a “negotiation”. Example: when I worked at the Margarita Inn, residents were required to wear COVID face masks. If they didn’t do this, they could not be “told” to don face masks, but one had to “negotiate” with them. So, this plays havoc with enforcing “rules”…

        The below is from the Margarita Inn Resident Handbook, it explains the “Harm Reduction” philosophy – which I refer to it as the “Do GREAT Harm” philosophy:

        “Harm reduction embraces respect, trust, and a nonjudgmental stance as essential components of an effective relationship. A harm reduction approach includes the following beliefs and practices:

        – Each individual is the expert in his/her own life
        – Individuals have the right to make their own choices
        – Any positive change is acknowledged and celebrated
        – Based in relationship building, honesty, and treating all people with dignity and respect
        – Emphasis on personal responsibility for behavior and separating behavior fromthe value of a person
        – Individuals have a voice in their care and treatment
        – Focus on reducing harm, not total abstinence from risky behavior, such as drug use…”

        Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  3. What about disturbing the peace? I’m pretty sure if I chased elderly women down the street screaming obscenities at them and relieving myself on the street, I would get arrested.

    1. Why are the people who could help with this crisis so concerned about making this population uncomfortable- what about the rest of us? Why do we have have laws if we can’t enforce them. We need to start. This is ludicrous.

  4. Like Portland or San Francisco, I wonder how bad Evanston’s downtown will get before the residents stop voting for the enablers.

  5. I for one really appreciate the Chiefs straight forward and candid speak and find it refreshing as compared to the overly wordsmithed babble coming from our Mayor. No apology necessary in my view.

    Noteworthy is that the concern over the growing population of mentally ill, and in many cases criminals, in Evanston was raised by the Mather residents. Their concern is valid.

    With EPD still being down 20 officers I fear for the public’s safety.

    While crazy doesn’t make you criminal necessarily, the disorder, filth, litter, rats, public urination and defecation, public intoxication, encampments, shopping carts full of crap, harassment, aggressive panhandling, and on and on created by these vagrants flooding into Evanston is causing a rapid decline in quality of life here.

    1. A short while ago I was leaving work; my office is in the downtown Evanston Public Library. Adjacent to the entrance a vagrant was chugging from a fifth of vodka, having a merry old time. Such scenes are now common downtown. Even if the police were called, what *really* could they do – “negotiate” with the guy, or call a social worker to “de – escalate” the situation?

      Some days the homeless turn the library into something more akin to a zoo. The days of the library being a nice civilized place are rapidly receding behind us… ..

      Gregory Morrow, Evanston 4th Ward resident

  6. We need to get ahead of the problem and not wait for an incident. And we all know when we get home after an encounter with a mentally ill person we call them crazy – cause they are!

  7. The statement: “It’s not illegal to be crazy” and “No law says you have to be sane” are indeed a poor choice of words, but I understand the message. I’m relieved that EPD Police Chief Steward subsequently sent a written apology and acknowledges to do better.
    However, I do find the following statement cause for concern. Although “it’s not illegal to want to harm yourself.”, self-destructive behavior should definitely be discouraged and yes must be policed. The tried-and-true mantra of the police ‘To Serve and Protect’ should and must apply to individuals trying to harm themselves. It’s a matter of social responsibility, legality has nothing to do with it.

  8. “Mental Illness” is thrown around by performative progressives to shut down honest discussion about the behavioral vagrancy, crime, filth, harassment we are experiencing in Evanston.

    Encampments, feces piles, endless aggressive panhandling, piles of junk, stolen grocery carts and Amazon deliveries, screaming obscenities, threatening restaurant employees, blocking grocery store entrances, dancing insanely on Davis St in traffic. this is now normal in Evanston. This Thursday at 8:30 PM, a new vagrant conversing aggressively with herself on a bench on Benson in front of Davis El stop was reaching into her backside, wiping, smelling examining whatever she pulled out.
    I don’t care if a person has mental illness, high blood pressure, arthritis, or any other illness. I still don’t want all of that vagrancy every time I walk anywhere near downtown.

    Downtown is ugly, dangerous, and getting worse. Every day brings new bad actors to threaten our city.

    Connections is brings new worsening vagrancy to our community every day.

    Dan Biss: there is a lot for sale next to your house. Why don’t you invite the vagrants to set up camp there? We’ve had enough downtown.

  9. Considering the the disrespect and actual abuse that many mentally ill, and just impoverished, people are treated to I think her comment is a colorful and catchy way to point out that we need to respond to the needs of those who have not been able to provide better for themselves in a more productive and sympathetic way. We can’t treat people who make a mess under the viaducts or harass us on the street as “criminals.” They are people in need. They may or not be actually “crazy.” But their need cannot be met with “discipline” as if they were criminals.

  10. The vagrancy in Evanston is not completely organic. We already know Evanston is a destination for outsiders and who need services or are looking to cash in on naivety of this city. It’s fine to help people but it’s not fine to allow CFH to use our streets as overflow storage for the people they have transported here but don’t have a bed for. Evanston can’t solve poverty and homelessness single handily we need to stop being so unrealistic about the level of service we can commit to as a community. Someone please convince me that we are not on track to becoming the next Portland

    1. Your comment is spot on 8th Ward. I’m sorry to say but I think we are on track to becoming the next Portland, San Fran, LA ……. How sad that our elected officials aren’t bright enough to leverage the lessons learned by those cities and work to prevent the same thing from happening here. They will never be able to use the excuse that they didn’t see this coming.

  11. OMG….. you see how this just keeps spiraling out of control? This is why nobody want’s to be the police in this “crazy” town. If these over the top folks in this town get all blistered by the reference to people being exactly what the hell they are “ CRAZY “ The same folks will be harassing the police for being to “aggressive” or “insensitive” Monetary compensation is only a small fraction as to why E Town can not fill the vacancy’s . Making the police more of an enemy than the actual enemy is the root of the problem.

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