Hire independent auditor, police panel says

An advisory committee appointed by the mayor will recommend Monday that Evanston hire an independent auditor to oversee complaints against the police.

The Citizen Police Complaint Advisory Committee concludes in its report that "there are not allegations or evidence of serious police misconduct" in Evanston.

And it says the department's Office of Professional Standards does "a professional and thorough job" of investigating complaints.

Nonetheless, it recommends hiring the auditor to "address the potential of bias and appearance of conflict of interest with the police investigating allegations of police misconduct."

The committee also recommends:

  • having a city employee outside the police department take complaints about police during business hours at the Civic Center,
  • establishing an alternative dispute resolution program run by trained volunteers to handle some complaints and
  • creating a new civilian review board to provide oversight of the department.

The committee says the auditor approach "has been implemented with success" in other communities and lists four examples. Evanston Now took a look at how those communities compare with Evanston.

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All four communities the panel cites are much larger than Evanston -- with populations ranging from twice to 15 times Evanston's size.

They also have far fewer police officers per resident than Evanston.

Annual reports from the independent auditors in those communities -- Eugene, Oregon; Fairfax County, Virginia; Portland, Oregon, and San Jose, California -- show that they received far more civilian complaints, proportionate to their size, than Evanston does.

While Evanston received 1.3 citizen complaints per 10,000 residents last year, the rates were 16.3 in Eugene, 2.3 in Fairfax County, 6.1 in Portland and 2.17 in San Jose.

The newest of the auditor positions, in Fairfax County, was established in 2016 following the 2013 fatal shooting of an unarmed man by a Fairfax police officer who was later convicted of manslaughter.

An independent commission this fall said the department there had made significant progress on numerous changes recommended in the wake of that shooting.

Fairfax's independent auditor, a former FBI agent, was hired last year at an annual salary of $143,000.

In Eugene, where the current police auditor has been on the job since 2009, a former employee won a $215,000 settlement of a lawsuit charging he'd wrongfully terminated her. And at least one resident has waged a Facebook campaign claiming the auditor "talked down to me" when the poster filed a complaint.

Although the Eugene department was sued this fall by a man who claimed he'd been wrongfully shot by police, the auditor says misconduct complaints against police there dropped 10 percent from 2016 to 2017.

In Portland, where the police are operating under a federal Department of Justice settlement agreement, the City Council has recently debated a range of possible revisions to the police oversight process.

In San Jose, which has had an independent police auditor since 1993, the auditor says complaints in 2017 were down 24 percent from 2016, but the city saw eight officer-involved shooting incidents, up from five the previous year.

The City Councl's Human Services Committee is scheduled to discuss the report during its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Civic Center.

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