Evanston Police Chief Schenita Stewart says the age at which some young people start to become involved in crime is decreasing.
And, as part of the response to that, Stewart says, she hopes to be able to return school resource officers to District 65 schools.
She said she plans to discuss school resource officers with D65’s new interim superintendent, Angel Turner, who, the chief said, is doing “an amazing job.”
Former Evanston police officer Loyce Spells is now the security director at Evanston Township High School, and the department “is continuing the partnership” with the high school, Stewart added.
She says the dress code for SROs at the high school has changed, “They no longer wear uniforms at the school. We want them to be approachable.”
Stewart said there’s been an ongoing gang war in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, “and we’ve gotten spillover from that.”
And, she said, short-staffing in Evanston’s police department has hit specialized teams that deal with gangs and complicated investigations hard.
The Neighborhood Enforcement Team, which once had 12 officers, is down to three, she said, and the Detective Bureau, previously with 25 officers, is now down to nine.
But she praised the department’s intelligence unit that monitors social media postings.
She said a few weeks ago they learned, at 6 p.m. on a Saturday, that youths were planning a “takeover” of Lighthouse Beach at 8 p.m. that evening — similar to disruptive events that had been taking place in public places in Chicago.
Those incidents, the chief said, “were not just teenagers jumping on cars — assaults and batteries were taking place as well.”
She says she deployed officers to Lighthouse Beach — and to the city’s other beaches — and kept the takeover from happening.
“It was an opportunity to send a message that we’re not going to have people come here and do beach takeovers,” Stewart added.
Gang problems, she said, are not all just spillover from Chicago. And combatting the problem has gotten tougher because gang members — likely in response to laws that punish being associated with a gang — are less likely these days to flaunt their gang affiliation with clothing colors or tattoos.
And she urged residents to inform police when they see criminal activity.
“In the 5th Ward we had an old-school shootout and nobody saw nothing,” she said. “We have to not be scared and not allow people to harm other people.”