Most Evanston police and firefighters surveyed by city officials say they don’t want to live here.

Just 23.3 percent of police and 35.5 percent of firefighters responding said that — if they could — they would live in Evanston.

The survey failed to distinguish between employees who currently do or don’t live in the city, but answers to open-ended questions indicate that at least some employees who currently do live here did participate.

Overall, about one-third of city employees live in Evanston. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says 15 police officers, or about 7 percent of the force, live in the city. Eleven firefighters, or about 10 percent, live here.

Just under half the 224 police employees and 69 percent of the 110 firefighters took part in the survey.

Among the police, 62 percent said they would not live here. For firefighters the “no” percentage was 45 percent. The remainder of each group said they weren’t sure.

Given choices of issues that they thought created a “moderate” or “significant” barrier to living in Evanston, both groups saw housing costs and high taxes as big problems, and existing family ties to another community as much less of a problem.

In a separate question, a large majority of police officers responding said they didn’t want to live in the same community where they worked for fear they or their families might have unpleasant encounters with people they’d arrested.

In open-ended responses on that issue, some officers said that while a cop working in a large city like Chicago might be able to work in one neighborhood and live in another and not encounter offenders he’d dealt with on the job — that was not realistic in a smaller city like Evanston.

Asked about a range of possible incentives that might encourage them to choose to live in Evanston, no-interest loans and help with down payments were popular with both groups with majorities saying they would be a  “moderate” or “significant” incentive.

A reduction in property taxes proved popular among police and having a city-provided car they could take home was more popular among firefighters.

The survey results are scheduled to be presented to aldermen at tonight’s Rules Committee meeting. Aldermen requested the survey last fall during a discussion of ways to encourage more police to live here — a move supporters believed would make it easier to distinguish law-abiding residents from criminals.

Some officers responding to the survey criticized aldermen for their decision to apologize to a Northwestern University professor who objected to the brief detention of her 13-year-old son as a burglary suspect.

As one put it, “Aldemen should back us for the work we provide, rather than apologize to citizens prior to knowing all the facts.”

The professor has since filed suit against the city over the incident.

An internal investigation later cleared officers of wrongdoing.

Related document

Public safety workers residency survey (.pdf)

Related story

Negative comments from cops dismay some aldermen

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Do police and fire employees have low respect for Evanston?

    High property taxes is one reason Evanston police and fire employees don't want to live here. Interesting

    Evanston city taxes rose 20 percent since 2008 while property values dropped. One of the reasons why city taxes rose so much was to pay for the police and fire union pensions.

    So police and fire employees don't want to live in Evanston in part because of high property taxes but they don't mind the cushy pensions and consistent pay raises at the expense of hard-taxed Evanston property owners.

    What does it say to Evanstonians when a clear majority of their fire and police employees don't want to live in Evanston? It tells me our police and fire emploeyees have minimum regard for Evanston.

    1. Cushy pension?

      Al, please tell me where I sign up for this "cushy pension" you speak of? In my career with the City, I have paid almost 10% of every paycheck towards my pension. That's a lot more than the average worker pays towards retirement.

      Also, please do not blame the pension issue on the hard working men and women of the police and fire departments. They have, by law, contributed their pension amounts every month. It is YOUR elected leaders that decided to not make their required payments to the pension fund. The workers have absolutely no accountability for the pension issue.

      As far as your other statement, do you think the employees of the fire and police departments put their lives on the line on a daily basis because we have "minimum regard" for the people we took an oath to protect – WITH OUR LIVES IF NECESSARY? Tell that to the men and women who take that oath seriously and head into danger while others flee.

      Where I chose to live and raise my family is MY business, not yours. If I can live better and/ or cheaper outside of Evanston, why not? The house I live in now would be way out of my affordability range if it was in Evanston. So are you saying I should not try to give my family the very best life I can? The taxes I save by not living in Evanston helps support my family better than I could if I lived there. Should my family live with less, or do without just because I chose to work in Evanston? Believe me, Evanston is not the highest paying city in the State or the Country. If money were my only motivating factor, I could go other places and make a lot more money. I CHOSE to work in Evanston.

      Where I chose to live has NO bearing on how I feel about the people I have given blood, sweat, and tears for. I take care of the people I serve just as if they were a part of my family. It offends me that you would accuse me and my co-workers of not giving the great people of Evanston the very best service I can based on where I live.

    2. Firemen and policemen should live wherever they choose

      I have posted this sentiment before.  We do not live in a feudal state.  Firemen are not serfs.  It is ridiculous that the City of Chicago has the right in this free country to dictate where city employees live.  Evanston has the good sense to respect its employees –it is none of my business where police officers or firemen live.  I can't believe that cities like Chicago and Boston get away with residency requirements.  These employees are professionals who serve the community, not the serfs tied to a motte and bailey castle in the Middle Ages.  And as for the pension debate, city workers have paid their fair share and we haven't held up our end of the bargain.    Even feudal lords were required by the law to honor their word to their vassals and even serfs.  Thank you firemen and police officers of Evanston for your commitment to my family's safety– regardless of where you return home each night.  

    3. Blame Northwestern for your

      Blame Northwestern for your high taxes.  They own 10% of the land in Evanston and pay zero taxes.  They get over while you pay for their fire and (lets be honest) police services.

        1. Okay….Still more than any

          Okay….Still more than any single entity, and yet pay nothing to siphon off our services.

        2. City of Evanston land ownership

          Bill      Any idea how much property the City Of Evanston owns thats not on Tax Roles or on as Vacant lots?

          1. City land

            As you could learn by reading the story mentioned in my previous comment, roughly three quarters of all the tax exempt land in Evanston consists of streets, alleys and parks.

            — Bill

      1. The fault, dear NIMBYs, lies not in Northwestern

        "Blame Northwestern for your high taxes."

         This myth that Northwestern increases our taxes is nonsense.  It is like those Zombie economic ideas  (Laffer curve, lowering taxes increases revenue, etc.) – no matter how many times they are discredited, there are still people willing to push them.

        Let's make it quick:

        Revenue:  Hotel revenue, football tax revenue, students and NU employees spend in local stores, Evanston residents work at NU.  Off campus students pay property tax.

        Expenses:  Almost no NU students have kids in public schools ( and many of those who do prefer to live in Wilmette), NU provides police service on its campus, Evanston doesn't pave roads or pick up trash on campus.

        Why are taxes so high:

        1. NIMBYs :   delayed (perhaps permanently) development at 708 Church, fought Mather development, fought Central Street apartments, prevented Optima Promenade (1530 Chicago – empty lot), delayed Carroll Place (empty lot at Oak & Emerson) …I'm sure there are more..NIMBYs prevent development, which means less tax revenue

        2. Schools :  Two school districts? That is where most of our taxes go.

        3. Police:  Yes, we need lots of them because Rogers Park and parts of South and West Evanston have plenty of crime.  Someone has to pay for that.

        4. More NIMBYs:  Can't really put a cost on how much money we have lost due to NIMBYs, with their intolerance and closed-mindedness , chasing all of the educated people away.  Most midwestern towns complain about a 'brain drain', and try to stop young educated people from leaving….here in Evanston, we do our best to prevent them from staying (while our neighbor to the south – Rahm – goes out of his way to bring them to the Loop).

  2. Consistent pay raises?

    I like the part about the consistent pay raises.  I seem to remember going without any when our union AGREED  to no raises in contract negotiations when the city was struggling and looking to cut and phase out a number of non-fire/police related jobs. 

    1. Unions have not put skin in the game

      Are you talking about the time in 2010 when the Evanston Fire Union sued the City of Evanston for laying off three firefighters? The union claimed the city was engaging in unfair labor practices.

      The city negotiated to rehire the firefighters in return for the union to drop its lawsuit. The firefighters did not get a raise for the rest of the year until the contract was renewed and then got a decent raise.

      Since the recession not one firefighter has been laid off. In that same time period the city raised taxes more than 20 percent and raised water and sewer rates, parking fees and fines and just about any kind of fee imaginable. 

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