An Evanston deputy police chief Thursday disputed claims from a resident that the department only assigns white officers to black neighborhoods in the city.

At a town hall meeting at the Civic Center, Deputy Police Chief James Pickett, who heads the field operatoins division, said black officers are assigned to all parts of the city and work on every shift.

About a quarter of the city’s police officers are black.

Pickett said that years ago when he was a patrol officer, “I worked on the west side my entire patrol career.”

But he suggested that it would be unfair to assign only black officers to black neighborhoods.

“You have to understand that the same” preference for matching officers the the racial composition of a neighborhood “can be said up in north Evanston.”

“That’s where we’ve got to get real careful,” Pickett added. “We can’t say ‘you’re black, you’re going to work in a black neighborhood, you’re white, you’re going to work in a white neighborhood.’”

The woman making the claim said that she lives on Grey Avenue and whenever she calls police only white officers respond.

Ryan Glew.

Cmdr. Ryan Glew added, “We want our officers to be able to police any part of town and be comfortable there.”

The town hall session focused on rights, responsibilities and reasonability in encounters between police and citizens, and Pickett framed the discussion in terms of a phrase he remembered reading in Spider-Man comics as a child: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

“It’s really important that we act responsibly,” he said. “If I make a false arrest or violate somebody’s rights, that’s long-lasting, real damage done.”

Pickett and other officers on the panel encouraged residents, if they are uneasy about a police stop, to ask the officer to request a supervisor to respond to the scene.

You can say, “I want to see a white shirt,” Pickett said. And if a supervisor is requested, a supervisor must show up.

“Generally we feel pretty supported by the community,” Glew said.

“But we also understand the history, the angst,” Pickett added. “We’d be naive if we did not. Turn on the news, nationwide, we understand, we see it’s happening.”

“We welcome criticism,” he said. “We make mistates. We’re still human, but we try to train as much as we can” to minimize errors.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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