EPD Officer Michael Jones at 4th Ward Meeting Thursday night.

Michael Jones has been an Evanston police officer for quite awhile. He’s seen the ups, and the downs.

On Thursday night, Jones told a 4th Ward meeting at Robert Crown Center that police department morale is “the highest its been in seven or eight years.”

Jones is the community officer who is the police liaison with the ward, which includes a portion of downtown.

He said a key reason for better morale is “we’ve got a new police chief.”

The hiring of Schenita Stewart for that position, Jones said, is “the best thing that’s happend to the EPD since I’ve been here,” which is about 15 years.

Another plus, Jones said, is the swearing in of seven new officers — two lateral hires from other departments and five rookies.

Jones said things should continue to improve, to the point that “we’ll be on the top of policing on the North Shore” in the not-too-distant future.

Even with those new hires, however, the police force is still about 20 officers below authorized strength, which makes it a challenge to respond to all citizen needs.

There are still not enough officers to allow for bicycle and foot patrols, the type of police visibility that makes many people feel safe.

Several residents at the meeting complained about aggressive panhandling by what appears to be homeless individuals, and/or those who are mentally ill.

One community member said alders should make safety “a priority rather than the 15 cent tax on bags,” a reference to an issue currently before City Council.

4th ward resident Joe Rocheleau described being accosted recently by someone who cursed, called him names, and threatened to “take him down.”

Another resident said the city should install cameras in a variety of locations, to help deter crime, or at least provide proof if something happens.

Jones said cameras can be a deterrent, but “a camera is not a witness in court.” The visuals can only be used, he said, to corroborate the account of a witness who testifies, not simply as a stand-alone piece of evidence.

He said those who are accosted or threated need to sign a complaint.

Neighborhood organizations must send the message that “we are a zero tolerance ward,” Jones added.

He also said that some businesses, like Walgreens, are “fed up” with panhandlers, while others, like Trader Joes and Jewel seem more willing to let individuls ask customers for money on store property.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), who held the ward meeting, stressed that public safety is a priority for him.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma at 4th Ward residents meeting. About 25 people attended.

He said that citizen complaints about panhandling-related crime, whether a scary threat or a violent act, are absolutely legitimate.

However, Nieuwsma also noted that even though many complaints are directed at individuals who are homeless, allowing the Margarita Inn to remain as a shelter is better than leaving people with noplace to go.

“I really feel that the Margarita Inn is part of the answer here,” he said.

“The benefits far outweight the negatives.”

Whomever may be committing crimes, the police who respond are noticing a shift in public attitudes about law enforcement.

“Two years ago,” community officer Jones said, “people were saying we don’t want police to have high visibility contact with the public.”

Now, he observed, it’s just the opposite.

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. “However, Nieuwsma also noted that even though many complaints are directed at individuals who are homeless, allowing the Margarita Inn to remain as a shelter is better than leaving people with no place to go.

    “I really feel that the Margarita Inn is part of the answer here,” he said.

    “The benefits far outweigh the negatives.”

    I’ll be remembering this when election time rolls around…

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  2. Respectfully Alder Nieuwsma, no. When my wife fears walking down Main Street or Oak Street because of the sexual and violent language spewed at her by residents of both Albany Care and the repurposed Margarita Inn, hell no. I don’t think you realize the level of opposition to what you are proposing here. We don’t feel safe in our ward. We want these people out of here. At some point, either they leave, or we leave. And we pay a heck of a lot more taxes than they do.

      1. Frankly, Greg, this assessment of Jonathan differs from my experience with him as a fellow Fourth Ward constituent. You raise valid concerns about the operations at the Margarita. I, too, wish that Connections had more responsible operations at that facility.
        But this issue is far more complex than “just shut it down,” and in my experience, Alderman Nieuwsma tries to understand and resolve all sides of the issue. Yes, some of the individuals at the Margarita cause problems in our neighborhood. Yes, some of the individuals, including the children who live there, are just trying to live life and mind their own business. Is it a “magnet?” Could be. But there were unhoused people pitching tents on the Post Office lawn in 2018, long before Connections opened the facility. There have been panhandlers on Davis Street for many years. So, I don’t have the experience that all of our neighborhood problems started when Connections opened the shelter.
        It seems to me that a neighborhood that has peacefully coexisted with a Women’s shelter and a SRO should be able to figure this out. And, again, Connections must do more than talk about being a good neighbor.
        But ad hominem attacks on someone who is helping us try to get there don’t help.

  3. I agree with both the above. I feel Jonathan is far off base and am afraid that an otherwise good alderman has lost his way on this issue.

    1. I have contacted Nieuwsma***repeatedly*** (email and phone) about the Margarita Inn issue and I’ve received *zero* response from him…

      “I really feel that the Margarita Inn is part of the answer here,” he said.

      He needs to remember that this issue is *not* about his “feelings”, but about the safety and security of his 4th Ward constituents… his attitude is neglectful and arrogant…

      Gregory Morrow Evanston 4th Ward resident

  4. I would agree with Mr. Hague. I wonder how Jonathan Nieuwsma or his family would feel if there were people on his doorstep, or ringing his doorbell. The quality of life near the Shelter has been so compromised. I do see how, from afar, it would be a good idea. However, the Good Neighbor Agreement was set in place to address the concerns of the people within the IMMEDIATE VICINITY and this agreement has failed. No one volunteered to be on the committee because the neighbors have a long history already with Connections and know who they are dealing with. Nieuswma struggled to get any participants. It is telling that no one would sign on. Neighbors wont sign. The businesses will not sign. The Chamber or Downtown Evanston Group will not sign. Connections tried to save face and turn it into “Good Neighbor Declaration” because they cannot get the neighborhood to support. Ultimately, the Good Neighbor Agreement is a document WRITTEN BY CONNECTIONS, in their own building, without real neighborhood concerns addressed or contributions. It is, in every sense, a failed agreement. It is sad because this project, if it were done correctly, would have had the entire neighborhood supporting financially and otherwise.

    1. Agreed. I would have no problem at all with a well – run shelter that would adhere to strict safety and security guidelines, but it is gobsmacking to me how shoddily Connections for the Homeless has treated their neighbors – and this in *collusion* with Nieuwsma and other city officials! Allowing Connections to “manage” the Margarita Inn is akin to handing control of a nuclear reactor over to a bunch of toddlers – sadly, I fear that this will only lead to tragedy…

      With the plentiful money and great staff resources that CFTH has, this could have been a *golden* opportunity to have a top – class homeless services/residence, something we could all proud of, but “it is not to be”…

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

  5. All indications are that the Mayor and City Council will approve Connections operating a permanent homeless shelter at Margarita Inn in February. Alderman Nieuwsma of the 4th Ward is certainly a proponent, and unfortunately has lost his objectivity and impartiality, leaving many of his constituents and their concerns on the sidelines.

    Two main issues (among many) must be considered by the Mayor and City Council in their decision. To date, a major shortcoming in this entire saga is the lack of knowledge, research, and clear understanding of how best to address the Evanston homelessness problem. Broader thinking and more objectivity is required.

    Issue 1: Connections’ unlicensed operation at Margarita Inn is a significant contributor to the “magnet effect” impacting Evanston. Further, our City’s and Interfaith Action Council’s diversity, equity, and inclusion emphasis on ALL THINGS is another contributor. There is an inordinate influx into Evanston of those seeking free services such as food, housing, Ventra Cards, mental health services, free phone charging, a place to sleep, a place to bathe, a place to panhandle, a place to steal from, a place to buy and do drugs, a place to assault and attack residents…in other words, those who do nothing but take, take, take. Word has spread (all over Cook County and the country) and it is evidenced by the high number of individuals getting off of the Purple Line at Davis each morning, suitcases or stuffed black garbage bags in tow. While you may not see as many aggressive panhandlers or people sleeping on the streets due to the cold weather, rest assured they are here (check out the 3rd floor of the library where there was an aggravated assault of a police officer this week (3rd assault there involving “homeless” that hang out there daily)). Elected officials, our City Manager, EPD, and City staff need to address this magnet effect before agreeing to a permanent homeless shelter ANYWHERE in Evanston.

    Issue 2: It doesn’t appear that Connections, Albany Care, or Trilogy Mental Health Services have an effective “Plan B” for those who are evicted from their facilities or refuse treatment in the case of Trilogy. Do you understand what happens to these individuals and where they go? They are simply sent out and onto (or left on) Evanston’s streets. This isn’t fair to them nor to other Evanston residents and businesses. If these organizations do have a “Plan B” (although I’ve learned directly from them they do not), it does not appear to be working well. Again, Elected officials, City Manager, EPD, and City Staff need to press for a “Plan B” solution.

    Our elected officials need to do more homework, educate themselves, benchmark more, and collaborate with residents and businesses more before embarking on such a bold move of opening a 70 bed homeless shelter anywhere in our City.

    1. Excellent points, Joe!

      My employer has an office on the 3rd floor of the Library, we heard the ruckus that occurred Monday afternoon. Fortunately, our office is now kept locked at all times, so we were not in danger. But the Library has now become a fraught place, and as a result we always have to be looking over our shoulders in case of any “trouble”. And “social workers” are not suitable for “de – escalation”, we need uniformed LEO’s with visible weapons to send a message that mayhem will not be tolerated. Modern – day social workers, with their “Do No Harm” MO, are part of the problem, *not* the solution. I saw the ***great*** damage that social workers are causing during my brief tenure this past Spring as an employee at Connections for the Homeless…

      The Evanston Public Library, in the name of “DEI”, is of course complicit in this, “anything goes” now. Not so long ago, I remember when sleeping and other disruptive behaviors were banned in libraries, now see how low we have gone…!!!

      My two co – workers who commute from Wilson to Davis on the Purple Line have almost daily stories of dangerous encounters on their commute – for Christmas I gifted them both with audio alarms. Is *this* the way we are supposed to live…!!!???

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  6. The comments stray off path of Evanston Cops Morale, and appears comments are more concerned about resident safety and how much planned homeless shelters plays into that—and further to those frustrated with Alderman Jonathan Nieuwsma

    I’ve gotten to know Jonathan fairly well since he’s become my alderman representing the 4th ward—-he’s a good man and very passionate about affordable housing, providing for homeless and public safety, A serious challenge and it’s virtually impossible to take on all three issues and appease all parties involved. Unfortunately difficult decisions must be made and final decisions won’t set well with some—-that’s inevitable and nothing can change that.

    I respect Jonathan for diligence he’s displayed toward trying to appease all parties—-and that’s the dilemma, he needs to stop trying. The safety of Evanston residents and and recognizing all downsides of what homeless shelters such as proposed Margarita Inn present comes first—-no way to have the cake and eat it too here—-the decision has to be do what’s right for those paying exorbitant taxes and provide safe as possible environment—-that means NO on any further belief that Connections for Homeless is good for Evanston, it’s NOT!

    Connections allows its residents to panhandle, wander aimlessly around the city, harass residents, and get drunk in their rooms. Also keep in mind most of the residents won’t even be from Evanston—-the tax paying residents of Evanston won’t have the slightest idea who Connections is allowing in nor any knowledge of past legal issues and convictions.

    The bottom line as I see it is this—-if you’re a hard working law abiding person willing to put in 40 hours plus at let’s say a Target, McDonald’s, local shop or restaurant and want to live in Evanston?—-forget it—-we don’t have affordable housing for you—-go somewhere else. But if you are a homeless drug addict or someone who’s squandered your life away by irresponsible decisions then by all means, come on in—-we’ve got a room for you, soup kitchens, drug clinics—-you name it, you’re covered

    If we’re to speak for whose morale is most important here?—-that would be the residents of Evanston and most important of all, our children. Place priority on providing genuinely affordable housing. And to those in need, you’ll get help too but you must be willing to abide by guidelines and supervision that insures the safety and well being of Evanston residents and commerce.

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