New police oversight panel OK'd by committee

Police Chief Demitrous Cook.

Evanston's Human Services Committee this week recommended full City Council approval of an ordinance to establish a Citizen Police Review Commission.

The new panel of unpaid volunteers would replace the Citizen Police Advisory Committee, and its formation grows out of recommendations from the Citizen Police Complaint Assessment Committee formed two years ago in the wake of concerns raised about the police handling of complaints against officers.

Revisions to the ordinance by the committee Monday focused on restricting the commission's role to reviewing the results of investigations completed by the Police Department's Office of Professional Standards and removing a previously proposed role for commissioners in providing community outreach about the police complaint process.

That followed concerns expressed by some former members of the CPCAC that the new panel couldn't do public outreach if members were barred from commenting on ongoing investigations.

The committee, on a motion from Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, reinstated the confidentiality provision and chose not to give the panel a public outreach role.

Police Chief Demitrous Cook said he supported creation of the new commission. "Transparency is key to having a great police department," Cook said.

"I'm going to stand up for police officers when they're right, and take swift action when they're wrong," he added.

The aldermen also discussed guidelines for review by commission members of dashcam and bodycam videos related to complaints.

Deputy City Manager Kimberly Richardson said the plan is to have the commission go into executive session and review unredacted versions of the videos.

Richardson said the process of obscuring faces of people seen in the videos, used when the city responds to Freedom of Information Act requests, is extremely time consuming for staff and would significantly delay the commission's review process.

A member of the current CPAC had complained to the committee during public comment that she felt showing the committee unredacted videos was inappropriate.

The committee opted to not switch to redacted videos for the new commission.

The new commission would make recommendations about discipline actions to the chief of police, but actual imposition of any disciplinary action would be up to the chief, as required by state law.

The committee ignored a demand from Carlis Sutton and Betty Sue Ester of the Citizens' Network of Protection. They insisted that the city should instead create a full-time paid panel that could directly impose penalties on police officers and dismiss the police chief and that should have a budget equal to at least 5% of the total police department budget.

Including pension costs, that proposal would amount to about $3.4 million in additional city spending per year.

The proposal approved by the committee -- on a 3-1 vote with Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, voting no -- now goes to the full City Council for action.

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