Aretha Barnes.

An Evanston police official told aldermen Tuesday night about new training efforts to teach officers how to minimize confrontations, while a local resident described what she said was an incident of overreaction.

Deputy Chief Aretha Barnes, who heads the field operations division, said officers are encouraged to speak in a calm voice and introduce themselves to try to defuse confrontational situations.

“We encourage them to use verbal tools,” Barnes said, rather than “the tools on their belt.”

She conceded that some officers’ skill sets “are better than others” and that the training effort is “a work in progress.”

She said the Chicago Police Department has recently launched a 16-hour in-service training program on de-escalation techniques for its officers and that she will soon be attending that program.

But what works for one department may not work for others, Barnes added, saying that Evanston has a unique local context.

Julie Koehler.

Julie Koehler, of 2759 Prairie Ave., complained during the Human Services Committee meeting Tuesday about an incident last July. She said she was taking her three children to an event at Gilson Park in Wilmette when she stopped at the Starbucks on Central Street near her home.

She says she left the kids strapped into their car seats while she went into the store to get a cup of coffee, only to have a police officer accuse her of child neglect when she came back out.

Koehler, a public defender, said it was an entirely ridiculous situation. “I’m not afraid of a badge or a uniform,” Koehler said, “so when he says I’ve abandoned my children, I said I didn’t abandon them and am not doing anything wrong.”

Koehler, who’s account was more fully described in August in a blog post on the Libertarian website, says the officer eventually backed off, but filed a complaint against her with the state Department of Children and Family Services, which it took her several weeks to resolve.

She says she filed a false report complaint with DCFS, but didn’t file a complaint with Evanston police.

Dealing with the mentally ill

Beyond the question of how police interact with citizens generally, and in the wake of distressingly common incidents nationally in which police encounters with mentally ill individuals have ended in death or injuries, Evanston Police Cmdr. Joseph Dugan told Evanston Now on Monday that 10 to 20 percent of the city’s officers have gone through a week-long in-service training program on handling such incidents.

“With cutbacks in state programs for the mentally ill,” knowing how to respond to people with diminished capacity “is becoming more and more important for us,” Dugan said.

Dugan says the department has worked with local agencies including Connections for the Homeless and Housing Options to come up with appropriate responses.

In some ways, Dugan said, the fact that Evanston has several residential care facilities means officers here are “ahead of the curve” in dealing with such issues. They’re more likely to be familiar with handling such situations, he added.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Sorry, Ms. Koehler

    But leaving children alone in a car strapped into their car seats, especially on a busy street,  seems like a very bad idea.  I applaud the officer for his concern.

    1. Concern is one thing….

      Filing a report with DCFS is something much more.  It's absurd to posit an opinion on the actions of the officer or the parent given the lack of information presented in the article. Furthermore, DCFS cleared her of wrong doing after obtaining knowledge of what happened.  Additionally, she felt necessary to complain about the interaction with the officer.  I believe this aspect of the story highlights the over reactive nature of strangers who often feel they are better able to judge what is and what is not safe for other people's' children.  Your comment is an example of that.  I hope our society can slow down on making judgements for other people and their family that results in legal/state interfearance where it's clearly not warranted. 



      1. Police judgement
        I agree that it was bad judgement to leave small children in a car even for a few minutes and that the officer used bad judgement when he reported it to DCFS. However, every time I read about arrests of felons lately I’m impressed that our police make these arrests instead of shooting perpetrators. We read almost every day about Chicago police and police in other cities killing suspects before they even try to question them.

        1. You read about cops trying to
          You read about cops trying to kill people every day without trying to question them….This seems like quite the exaggerated statement.

          1. Well, almost every day

            I said that you read almost every day about police in other cities shooting people before questioning them.  Sometimes it is almost every day.  Lately it's almost every week.

    2. Actually…

      Actually, as reported in the Chicago Tribune regarding my incident, it is much more dangerous to take my children out of the car, walk them through a parking lot and into a store, than it is to leave them safely strapped inside the vehicle.

      I appreciate your concern for my children, but I try not to let unsubstantiated fears dictate the way I raise my kids.  Reporting happy, healthy children to DCFS, thereby forcing a family to endure the hardship of an unwarranted investigation, is much more devastating than allowing my children to watch Dora the Explorer while I run into Starbucks for a cup of coffee.

      1. Here’s the Facts

        In case you cannot open the link above, here's the actual statistics that support my decision and should alievate your fears for the safety of my children.

        "A doctoral student in cognitive science at the University of California at Irvine, Thomas is the lead author of a recently published study designed to understand what’s going on. After all, under most circumstances, the objective risk to children left by themselves is extremely low. The chances that a stranger will abduct and kill or not return a child — the great fear driving the new norm — is about 0.00007 percent or one in 1.4 million annually. It’s much more dangerous to drive a child somewhere, or even to walk with one across a parking lot, than to leave a kid alone in a well-ventilated car."

        1. Not ok.

          I really thought it was against the law to leave your children in the car unattended. Either way, it is 100% wrong. The children suffered the consequences from a parents bad decision. The cop was doing his job and should have been thanked for looking after the well being of 3 young girls while they were unattended. Sounds to me like entitlement got somebody in trouble.

      2. I support her right to leave

        I support her right to leave her kids in the car, and tend to agree with her that it was safer.

    3. Don’t have all the facts but were there other options?

      Kids left unattended in a car, strapped in their car seats, in July?  I don't know what the weather was like or the time of day.  But don't people get in trouble for leaving pets unattended in the car?

      Also, it is accurate that we as readers don't have all of the facts.  For example, how long were the children alone in the car for a police officer to come upon them?  Did someone call the police to alert them to the situation?  It would have taken some time for a police officer to respond.  Or did the officer just happen upon the car?  And what was the temperature outside?  Was the car parked where the parent could see the car with an unobstructed view?  Parked in the lot or on the street? 

      Perhaps some of these factors caused the officer to contact DCFS.  As I understand it, an officer is a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse so, given those facts, the officer (and/or the supervisor(s)) may have determined that the DCFS contact was necessary?

      I was advised by my children's pediatrician early on never to leave a child alone in a car strapped into the car seat.  Though it was sometimes inconvenient to maneuver multiple young children out of a car and back in for a quick stop, I have always followed that physician's advice.  A planned quick stop can, through no fault of the parent, turn into a much longer stay.

      Were there other options?  How about a drive through coffee location or making instant at home?  As parents, we need to consider the options that reduce the risk to our children.  I won't judge this parent but, given the facts, I can't say that the officer was wrong, either.

      1. Kids in Cars
        Good commentary, and I agree with you. I am a mandated reporter as well. I would have, if possible, stood by the car to make sure that nothing bad would happen, or that the parent was coming out in a minute or two. Calling DCFS on this instance was over the line and caused needless problems.
        I would NEVER, though, leave any child or animal in any vehicle for any reason. Walking kids through a parking lot, or bringing them in stores is what people do. Coffee is NOT that important, and there are drive-throughs. A child is TOTALLY vulnerable being strapped in and locked inside a car…no matter what. BAD judgement on her part. Police officers are instructed to follow-through on instances like this, and should be applauded for doing their job. She should know better.

      2. Click the links

        If you click the links in the article and in my response, all those questions will be answered for you.  

        70 degrees, 3 minutes, I could see them the entire time.  But, some people will always judge a mother no matter what the facts.  It's one of the safest places to attack a woman…a moral judgement on her ability to parent.  But, I refurse to be shamed by you or anyone else, and it is the reason why I am standing up for myself and the countless other mothers who are unfairly judged by the morally righteous who think they know better than the mother based upon "well, that's not what I would do."  Frankly, I think those people should worry more as to why their 25 year old is still living at home than if my kids are safe riding their bikes around the block, playing in the park alone or, God forbid, watching Dora the Explorer in a van for three minutes on a 70 degree day.

        1. Not a bad mother but no shaming either

          I know that you felt that you were right. That is clear. Perhaps the risk was small. But others would and have made other choices when small children are in a car alone and the reason was coffee.

          Did you happen to hear about the mother who left her children in the car and a six year old beat an infant to death?  I know that that was not you or your children or how long you were gone or approved by a doctoral student in California who spent her childhood wandering through a dewy meadow.  But I look to minimize the risk to my children, even when that results in inconvenience to me as a parent.  I don't see any benefit to small children leaving them unattended in a car while I go get coffee. And, in my opinion, that should be the focus: benefit to the child versus inconvenience to the parent.

          Having worked in a job where I had plenty of exposure to criminals and crimes myself, I know that bad things can happen, especially to unattended children.  You play the odds your way, others will play them their way. Perhaps the cop was right to have DCFS sort out whether he was wrong or you were in a more global sense.

          On assertions of shaming: going to a public meeting and raising the issue means that you have started the conversation. You are apparently looking for us as a society to do something different in this situation.  This is Evanston. You are going to get feedback. It is not shaming to say that I disagree with that suggestion.  It is that First Amendment rights thing.  And I would say the exact same thing to any male parent or caregiver.

  2. Tie goes to the cop
    Here’s my 2 cents from the peanut gallery on Julie Koehler’s situation based on what I’ve read. In a nutshell, it was a clash of egos.

    The cop had good intentions and was trying to find the children’s mother. Koehler comes out, sees her kids crying and yells at the cop who yells back. Cops are trained to stay in control. If someone yells at a cop or not cooperating, the cop is losing control and danger escalates.

    I notice how Koehler, a public defender, has said she’s not intimidated by cops. Koehler escalated the situation.

    However, the cop had no business filing with the DCFS and did so likely in retaliation of Koehler’s aggressiveness. He had the power and used it, I think, unnecessarily. I think Koehler should have also filed a complaint with the police department.

    Anyone who says Koehler was wrong leaving her kids, 8, 5 and 4 in the car are closed minded. Working parents with kids have a lot on their plates and a quick cup of coffee sometimes is just the thing.

    It’s all about respect. Had Koehler not yelled at the cop, stayed calm and collective, she likely would not have dealt with DCFS (which she shouldn’t have in any regard). On the other hand, if the cop had put his ego in check, allowed Koehler to settle down and explain calmly his intentions perhaps Koehler’s motherly agitation would have subsided.

    Bottom line – people are unpredictable and tie goes to the cop.

    Takeaway – when dealing with cops put your emotions in check and calmly cooperate.

    1. Shame on that Lady

      "Koehler comes out, sees her kids crying and yells at the cop who yells back…Koehler escalated the situation."

      I acted like any other mother would when she sees someone, including a police officer, causing her children to cry.  I work with police officers every day, so please don't assume because I'm a Public Defender that I don't appreciate the police.  Hell, many of the officers I've crossed in trials are having a field day teasing me about this.  However, being a Public Defender also means that I know police officers are normal humans and don't automatically assume they know all the laws…which they don't.  And I'm not afraid to confront one if he's making my children scared…which any mother would do. 

      It is not against the law in IL to leave your child unattended in a car for three minutes.  So, if you think I'm being disrespectful to a police officer because I insist that he is wrong on the law because I actually happen to know it, then yes, I was being disrespectful.  And if you think I was showing my ego by pointing out to an officer that was accusing me of a crime, that no crime was actually occurring, then yes, you may call me egotistical.  

      But no, the police officer did not have "good intentions" as you suggested.  Otherwise, he would not (1) assumed that I was in the nail salon when there was a Starbucks right next door and (2) made my children cry causing me to come running from a store in a state of alarm.

      But, nonetheless, you want to blame me for the situation because I was unable to "keep my emotions in check" when my children are crying and "calmly cooperate" when a police officer is calling my children abandoned.  Sounds to me like you're blaming the victim.  Kind of similar to the old addage "well, what does she expect when she wears such a short skirt?" or "that Black man should have kept his hands at 10 and 2 when he's pulled over, no wonder he was shot."  If those darn uppity mothers would stop yelling at police officers who make their children cry and wrongfully accuse them of abandonment, they wouldn't be reported to DCFS so much.

      But, I'm glad we agree on one thing, I should not have been reported for DCFS for leaving my kids in a car for three minutes.  Thank you, sincerely, for that.  Seriously.  I can't tell you how many people think I'm a terrible mother for doing something I'm sure their mothers did to them 1000 times.  I just hope I can also convince you that people should not have to live in a world where it's their responsibility to be trained on how to interact properly with a police officer.  I know it's the world we live in right now, and that is just sad.  Please don't promelgate that it's ok and the way it should be.  There is nothing right with that.




  3. Wait–we have all missed something here

    The mother was upset and came rushing out when the police officer did something that scared her young kids. She said that she saw one of the small children crying and her motherly defenses kicked in.  

    How did the cop scare her kids?  Standing near the car?  Or talking with them?  Or peering into the car?  Did he reach into the car?

    That is certainly a harm to the children as the mother has acknowledged that her behavior reflected. Just the kind of harm that can occur when leaving your small children unattended in a car. Any person could have done those things to the children with widely varying motives.  I am certain that the officer did not intend to scare or otherwise harm them. 

    Why leave them like sitting ducks for some person to scare?  The mother's actions display that she perceived her child's crying to reflect that the child was being harmed at that moment.

    Again, weighing harm to small children (here, harm happened as the mother acknowledged, an adult did something near the car that scared at least one of them) compared to inconvenience to the parent. 

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