Police Chief Schenita Stewart, during an interview during the search for a new chief in September 2022.

An encounter with the Evanston Police Department could get you a referral to court.

But it could also get you a referral to a social service agency, to try to get you out of whatever bad circumstances you might be in.

Chief Schenita Stewart told a virtual 8th Ward meeting Thursday evening that a group of EPD officers, members of a nationwide organization of reform-minded cops called New Blue, is putting together some potential modifications to the intake process once someone is picked up.

Stewart said, “It’s not just following up on a criminal matter.”

Stressing that participation by the arrestee is voluntary, the chief said information gathered by officers could find out that the individual needs food or housing.

The police could then be “working with nonprofits to direct people to social services.”

Clearly, this is not something for all charges, such as murder or violent assault.

But for some lesser offenses, it could be part of the concept of “restorative justice,” often used in schools but not in police situations.

According to the National Center for Restorative Justice, the concept focuses on “repair” rather than “punishment.”

The suspect and victim are brought together, where the offender must accept responsibility and engage in “voluntary dialogue” with the person who was wronged.

It’s important to point out that the victim must agree to take part in the restorative justice process or it will not take place.

Chief Stewart also said that the new four-year police contract, just approved by City Council, will help significantly in attracting more officers to Evanston.

EPD has been understaffed for several years (down 27 officers last summer), leading to service cutbacks.

A consultant’s report concluded that the pay for Evanston officers was below what police in similar departments were making elsewhere.

The new contract gives patrol officers a 27 percent raise over the length of the contract.

Stewart said the department is already bringing in several new officers, and the lure of higher pay certainly does not hurt.

“I compare us to the NCAA transfer portal,” said the chief, a former basketball player. “We can pick who we want.”

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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