About three dozen Evanston residents turned out for a session Thursday evening to discuss potential improvements to how complaints about police conduct are handled.

The meeting, held at the Parasol Room in the Civic Center, was called at the request of the City Council’s Human Services Committee, and ideas developed from the session are scheduled to be reviewed by the HSC at its next meeting on Monday, March 6.

Jody Wright.

Most of the meeting was devoted to a question and answer session in which Cmdr. Jody Wright, head of the department’s Office of Professional Standards, and other police supervisors explained the department’s existing complaint review process and discussed ways it which it might be modified.

In response to a question, Wright said that the existing two civilian committees that review the results of department internal investigations are only presented with the same summary report that later is delivered to the Human Services Committee, but that if members have questions about a case it is possible for them to review videos of an incident and they potentially might be given access to redacted versions of other investigative materials.

Community activist Bennett Johnson spoke in favor of creating an independent police review panel, along the lines of one proposed by Betty Ester’s Citizens Network of Protection that failed to garner enough petition signatures to be placed on April’s election ballot.

Delores Holmes.

But Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said the Human Services Committee itself could serve that function.

The HSC “could easily have an investigator to report back to them where there are concerns,” Holmes said.

Kenith Bergeron.

Kenith Bergeron, a senior conciliation specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, said cities he has worked with have developed a wide array of models for structuring civilian review boards.

“The cities that have done it well are building transparency,” Bergeron said. “You have to take the best of what each of these other cities have tried, and determine what will work for you.”

Bergeron suggested also considering “who’s not in the room” and reaching out to make sure that all age and demographic groups are participating in the process.

Other suggestions from the audience included looking beyond the examination of complaints to other outreach efforts, including surveys of community attitudes toward the department.

Update 3 p.m. 2/24/17: The city has scheduled a second meeting for the working group from 6 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 2, in the Parasol Room to summarize information gathered at this week’s meeting. 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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