It was almost like a receiving line at a wedding.
Evanstonian after Evanstonian waited to say hello Wednesday morning to a felllow Evanstonian — Schenita Stewart — who is now the city’s chief of police.
“I’m so glad you’re with us,” said Gretchen Brewster.
Stewart, a graduate of Evanston Township High School, was appointed chief in September, but started on the job less than a month ago. She had been deputy chief in East Dundee.
Since becoming chief, among Stewart’s many activities have been meeting with rank and file police officers and attending ward meetings.
Wednesday’s was the first of nine “Coffee with the Chief” sessions scheduled around town.
“It’s important to make yourself available and engage with the public,” Stewart told Evanston Now, at the Wednesday session at at Colectivo Coffee downtown.
Some of the concerns mentioned by residents were reducing the number of homicides, dealing with the problem of homeless individuals and making sure there is “equitable” policing.
Dana Deane has lived in Evanston for nearly 30 years. She was concerned about the murder rate, and also said “it makes me uncomfortable to see so many unhoused” people, although noted that working with those experiencing homelessness is as much a social services issue as it is one for police, unless an actual crime is being committed, such as aggressive panhandling
Sharon Heller has been in Evanston for less than a year, after moving here from Austin, Texas, and the number of panhandlers quickly became obvious. But it was not only people asking for money.
Heller said there have been at least four incidents since she’s moved here where individuals defecated on the sidewalk or near walls downtown.
Heller also said that homlessness is more of a social services question than a police issue, but said she wants to make sure that police “link with nonprofits” to get those in need of housing off the streets.
Chief Stewart will be attending “Coffee with the Chief” gatherings in every ward over the rest of this month.
Here’s the schedule:
- Friday, Nov. 4, Tag’s Café, 2102 Central St., 7th Ward.
- Wednesday, Nov 9, Levy Center, 300 Dodge Ave., 8th & 9th Wards.
- Thursday, Nov 10, Comfort Desserts Reimagined, 517 Dempster St., 3rd Ward.
- Wednesday, Nov. 16, Robert Crown Center, 1801 Main St., 2nd Ward.
- Thursday, Nov. 17, Berry Pike Café, 1100 Davis St., 4th Ward.
- Friday, Nov. 18, Curt’s Café, 2922 Central St., 6th Ward.
- Wednesday, Nov. 30, Double Clutch Brewery, 2121 Ashland, 5th Ward.
All the sessions are scheduled for 9 to 11 a.m., except the Curt’s Café one, which will run from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.
Bringing the short-staffed EPD back up to sworn strength is a major issue facing the chief.
The department is down 27 officers. Stewart said that one other who was thinking of leaving is still on board, so that’s a plus.
In addition, while recruiting new people, the chief said, “We may be short staffed, but we have very experienced officers” who care about the community.