Police Chief Schenita Stewart at the 2nd Ward meeting at the Robert Crown Center.

Schenita Stewart is going to meet with a grieving parent.

Evanston’s new police chief says she will get together with the mother of a victim in a seven-year-old, unsolved homicide, to show that the police department still cares.

“That’s still a mother and still a family that’s missing someone,” Stewart said at a 2nd Ward meeting Thursday night.

Other cold cases will get similar outreach.

It may not mean those cases will suddenly be solved. They may never be solved at all.

But Stewart said just an update from the police, perhaps with a referral to social service agencies, can be something positive for a family that has been through so much negative.

“She’s had no leads,” Stewart said of the mom in this case.

The new chief plans to develop a protocol on reviewing cold cases, on what’s been done to investigate them, and when to regularly get in touch with families of the victims.

“You still make the call,” even if there’s no arrest to report.

But investigating cold cases, or any cases for that matter, is harder now than in years gone by, because of the serious staffing shortage in the Evanston Police Department.

With redeploment needed just to cover street patrols, Stewart said “every unit in my agency has kind of been gutted.”

EPD is down 27 officers, and Stewart said another may be leaving soon.

The department is actively trying to fill as many positions as possible, although it’s a slow process.

Fortunately, Stewart said, “we still have good people showing up every day.”

Stewart is a graduate of Evanston Township High School, and was most recently Deputy Chief in East Dundee, Illinois, before being named as chief in the city where she grew up.

Besides reaching out on cold cases, Stewart also plans to reach out to the citizenry in general, trying to improve police-community relations.

She’s going to have two interns who will shadow her and learn what it’s like to come up through the ranks.

Stewart hopes especially to have an impact on Black children.

“It’s important they see somebody that looks like them and see that they can become a chief of police.”

As Evanston’s first permanent Black, female chief, Stewart is a ground-breaker.

She also wants to break down some of the old ways of doing things, exemplified by the cold case outreach.

“I don’t care what we did in the past,” she says. “This is what we’re doing now.”

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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