The nationwide shortage of police officers is “kind of on steriods here,” Evanston’s interim police chief, Richard Eddington, says.
Eddington told the 4th Ward community meeting on Tuesday night that the Evanston Police Department is 27 officers below authorized strength, and said EPD is “aggressively trying to recruit people from other departments” by offering a signing bonus.
The bonus amount was not mentioned, but Eddington said it would be paid to the new officers over three years.
Eddington also noted that the EPD staffing shortage is even worse than it looks, because beyond the 27 vacancies, nine officers are on “light duty.”
Eddington is filling in as chief until a permanent top cop is named. Back in 2018, when he retired, Eddington said the sworn departmental strength was 166.
COVID-related budget cuts dropped that to 154 (no layoffs – just not filling empty slots). And now, with all of the vacancies, plus officers on light duty, Evanston police have gone to 12-hour patrol shifts, which are exhausting for the officers and expensive for the city because of overtime costs.
In addition, Eddington said, crime prevention specialists have been moved to patrol as well, to fill the need. And the detective bureau is no longer staffed on weekends, although detectives can be called in if required.
In addition, changes in state pension laws mean police officers can take their accumulated pension time with them to another department, rather than staying in the same place until eligible to retire.
Because of that, Eddington said, EPD has lost about 16 officers to Arlington Heights.
Arlington Heights and Evanston both have around 75,000 people, and, while Eddington did not say why EPD cops are moving there, one possibility is that a more conservative suburb has less of a “defund the police” movement which had been seen in Evanston.
But whatever the reason behind the shortage, the issue will soon fall into the lap of the new Evanston chief.
A virtual forum will be held Thursday night where the three finalists will be publicly interviewed.
Eddington said 13 potential candidates for chief were recruited. The three now in the running are Migdalia Bulnes, deputy chief for the Chicago Police Department; Joshua Hunt, chief of investigations for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office; and Schenita Stewart, deputy chief in East Dundee.
City Manager Luke Stowe, who will name the new chief, called the contenders “three great finalists.”
Stowe said he will meet with each on Monday, Sept. 12, and expects to announce the new chief by the end of next week. A city council vote is not required.
It may take several weeks after the appointment for the new chief to start. When he or she does begin, the staffing shortage will be waiting.
And so will the price tag for filling those vacancies.
Eddington said with the city offering signing bonuses for new officers, the Fraternal Order of Police is saying “what about the old guys” who are still here. What about more money for them?
Building back street strength, Eddington noted, “is going to be a very pricey endeavor to fix.”