A last-minute proposal from a half-dozen community activists that the city hire a full-time executive director to run a proposed Citizen Police Advisory Committee got a cool reception from Evanston’s Human Services Committee this week.
The proposal, a response to a July memo from Police Chief Richard Eddington about ways to address citizen concerns about the discipline process for officer accused of mistreating citizens, was presented to aldermen just hours before Monday’s meeting began.
“Hiring an executive director doesn’t make the process fair,” Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said. “Trying to find some kind of staffing to help maintain records and pull people together for a volunteer group — perhaps,” he said, “but having an executive director to manage the process, I just don’t see it.”
The alderman noted that complaints about police are ultimately reviewed by the Human Services Committee and said, “Your elected officials are not beholden to anybody. Whatever is being paid to us makes very little difference in our lives. You’re not going to find a hired person to be more neutral and vigilant on issues.”
With the City Council facing a police and fire pension fund shortfall now estimated at $140 million, the idea of hiring new personnel to run a police review program won no endorsements from the three aldermen attending the meeting.
Chief Eddington’s memo suggested reforms in the way citizen complaints are handled — requiring supervisors to provide residents who submit informal complaints with a report on the results of the investigation and establishing a mechanism for citizens to insist that their complaints be handled through the formal review process.
The chief said that because of confidentiality requirements for police investigations, a board authorized to do its own investigation of complaints about police would require trained staff and subpoena powers. He said a federal Justice Department report on review board several years ago found that the least expensive operation, in Flint, Mich., had an annual budget of $200,000.
He suggested that giving the Human Services Committee the authority to review disposition of informal complaints, in addition to its current review power over formal complaints, would be the most effective solution.
The city already has a civilian review panel that receives a summary of the results of investigations conducted by the department’s Office of Professional Standards after those results have been reviewed by top departmental officials and after any discipline of the officer is imposed by the police chief.
The proposal from the community activists calls for something less than a full-scale independent investigative body. Instead it would create a panel to review results of departmental investigations before they are sent to the chief of police for him to determine what disciplinary action, if any, to take against accused officers.
Bennett Johnson, one of the citizens proposing the new review panel, said it could actually save the city money. “It’s a hedge against lawsuits for police misconduct,” he said.
“We’re all for law and order. We want peaceful use of our streets and houses and public areas. The police can’t do everything,” Mr. Johnson said, arguing that the review panel would help build trust between citizens and the police force. He said too many residents now feel that police “are hostile to the people who live here.”
Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, suggested that the chief meet with the residents proposing the new review body to discuss the issue further before the committee takes it up again at its meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5.
The committee has been debating possible revisions to the city’s handling of police misconduct complaints since June.
The committee on Monday also voted to accept reports from the chief on five citizen complaint investigations. In three the officers were exonerated. The other two were dropped because the complaining residents failed to respond to requests for additional information.
Cops acquitted of beating charges – Aug. 30
Residents: Open up police reviews – June 20
Aldermen eye civilian police review – June 5