Members of Evanston’s Human Services Committee Monday night appeared to have enough information to start building at least one model for police reform, but it wasn’t at all clear whether that’s a model they could agree on.

The concept of having a team of a social worker and a health care professional rather than police respond to certain types of emergency calls was pioneered in Eugene, Oregon. Called Cahoots, the program has caught the fancy of Human Services Committee Chair Eleanor Revelle.

At a previous committee meeting Fire Chief Brian Scott estimated it would require nine full-time-equivalent employees to have one such team on the street in Evanston 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.

A recent memo on the city’s police department budget says the department, which was budgeted for 160 sworn officers this year, was down to 150 by July 1 because of a hiring freeze.

With 150 officers and a pension program that encourages retirement after 30 years on the force, the department could expect to lose about five more officers each year because of retirements.

Those numbers would appear to suggest that the Cahoots model could be brought to Evanston without having to impose layoffs at the police department.

Alderman Revelle, 7th Ward, suggested that at minimum the city could try a limited version of a Cahoots-style program next year, perhaps operating only eight hours a day.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, suggested she’d like to see further reductions in police staffing. “With the legalization of marijuana, do we really need an entire unit devoted to drug enforcement? Fleming asked.

She also said police departments had originated as slave catcher patrols and that the objective of police has long been seen as to control and punish the African-American community.

Judy Fiske.

But Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the police department is already short staffed and said residents in her ward have voiced concerns about possible staffing cuts.

She suggested that the city should hire a consultant to do a study of police staffing needs and said she hoped to discuss the issue further at her next ward meeting on Sept. 1.

While the committee has set a goal of having a proposal ready in time to incorporate it into the city budget for next year, Fiske said, “I don’t want to be boxed in by the budget discussion. This is too important an issue to have to accomlish it all in the next eight weeks.”

The committee also heard from representatives several social service and mental health organizations that provide services in the community, including Evanston Hospital, the YWCA, Connections for the Homeless, Interfaith Action, Impact Behavioral Health, Peer Services and the Moran Center as well as the city’s own victims services unit.

All described how they interact in various ways with police and it was not clear from the discussion how their programs might be affected by the potential addition of a new mental-health-oriented crisis response team by the city.

Revelle announced that the committee’s next meeting, which had originally been planned for next Monday, will be postponed until Aug. 31, because too many city staff members would either be on vacation or taking furlough days on Aug. 24 to hold the meeting then.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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