Evanston’s much-anticipated Community Responder Program may take some time to launch, depending on next year’s city budget.

Mayor Daniel Biss told about 20 people at a town hall meeting at the Ecology Center Tuesday night to “watch the 2024 budget” to see if money is allocated for the program.

A proposed budget is typically released by the city manager in early October, with the final budget document adopted by the City Council in late November.

Police Chief Schenita Stewart suggested that even if full funding is not available, there may be enough for a pilot version of the program.

However, Stewart and other city officials made it clear that money will not be diverted from funds allocated for the City’s traditional police force.

She said the department still needs to hire 22 more officers to reach acceptable staffing levels and that more money is needed to attract quality candidates.

The Community Responder program proposal developed from the City’s collaboration with the consulting firm Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

It is expected to issue a report soon that will offer recommendations on how to implement a responders program.

Feedback from residents received at the town hall and at ward meetings is expected to be integrated into the report.

Rachel Williams, at an 8th Ward meeting on May 25.

Rachel Williams, administrator of the city’s Reimagining Public Safety initiative has been making presentations about the community responder program at community meetings and said it would complement traditional law enforcement.

Some residents questioned where the Community Responder force would be housed in City government.

Mayor Biss said that he thought the program’s “natural homes are in the Health and Human Services Department and the Department of Parks and Recreation.”

He said that issue would probably be addressed before budget requests are submitted for the program.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) greets a resident at the Tuesday evening meeting.

A major concern from residents at the meeting was whether an unarmed force could handle escalating situations that presented a low chance violence at the outset.

Williams referred to a study using data from other cities where similar programs are in operation, including Austin, Texas, and Eugene, Oregon.

She said that calls handled by community responders in those towns between 2019 and 2021 ended in violent escalation just 0.2% of the time.

Residents and officials present agreed the program might help address the growing vagrancy problem evident in Evanston.

Unhoused people who commit actions that are nonviolent but none the less publicly disruptive could be referred to agencies for follow-up services with mental health facilities and housing assistance programs.

Calls requesting police help with issues such as loitering, wellbeing checks and nuisance reports take up a large percentage of police response time, Williams said, and many times required no formal police action.

Mayor Biss said the success of the program in other cities in handling minor public safety issues is “why this makes sense.”

Police, he said, “are called upon to do a bunch of stuff that somebody else can do, while they are also called upon to do a bunch of stuff that nobody else can do. Focusing time on that second category is really important.”

Desiree Shannon relocated to Evanston in 2022 from Columbus, Ohio. She has a journalism degree from Otterbein College of Ohio. During her undergraduate studies, she completed an internship with the Washington...

Join the Conversation


  1. A Community Responder program can also be an effective and proactive deterrent for crime, panhandling, and general public disorder and nuisances if it can include an outreach aspect. Additional police and other trained professionals with their feet on the street would likely reduce 911 calls and make Evanston less desirable for criminals and bad actors who seem to be flooding in lately.

    Funding for public safety, as well as our infrastructure, needs to rise to the top of our elected officials list of priorities in Evanston. And it should not come at the expense of an underfunded, understaffed, and unsupported police department.

  2. If only the city/Biss would use this NU stadium situation as leverage to get NU to fund some of these initiatives!!! This is a perfect example. Also how about we stop charging for parking and ask NU to donate whatever that amount is in the budget? We are leaving a massive opportunity on the table because we can’t be strong enough to actually lead this city!!!

  3. EPD definitely requires police doing foot patrolling particular areas of downtown. There’s a group of juvenile delinquents riding their bicycles taunting individuals utilizing their bicycles have even seen these same juvenile delinquents going inside the 7-Eleven on Davis to snatch and grab. You can’t hit them due to being a juvenile. They definitely need an old fashioned spanking. Also these same juveniles are even taunting individuals on the Lakefront. Some of these panhandlers are becoming more aggressive. Having EPD doing more foot patrolling/riding bicycles would help defuse the situation

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *