Civilians to ease EPD personnel crunch

Evan Hessel

Evanston Police Department will hire more people to staff the service desk at its headquarters, taking the first step in a long-term plan to “civilianize” the desk.

The primary reason for increasing civilian presence at EPD, with non-officers making up the majority of several other departments, is to allow more officers to work on the streets, Cmdr. Michael Perry said. He said the six police officers who now work at the service desk will be reassigned to work in patrol, investigations or other areas.

EPD employs 47 civilian administrators, clerks and counselors at its headquarters at 1454 Elmwood Ave. Perry said civilian service desk employees are generally paid less than police officers. Eventually EPD will hire more civilians and expand the front-desk staff to as many as 15 people.

“We should have been at that number a long time ago,” Perry said.

Positioned just inside the entrance of the headquarters, service desk staff answer calls to EPD’s main phone line and deal with people who come to the department with problems or concerns.

But Tony Correa, a patrol officer, said EPD should continue to staff the desk with actual police officers because they are better trained to deal with emergency situations. Civilian employees do not carry handcuffs or guns, so they cannot arrest or restrain potentially dangerous people who come into the building, Correa said.

If the desk is to be fully staffed by civilians, EPD should install a glass wall to protect desk employees, Correa said.

But EPD administrators do not believe the civilian desk staff will be in danger and are not considering any renovations, Perry said.

The service desk would not be the first staffed by non-officers. Currently the records, communications and police social services departments are heavily staffed by civilians.

The social service department, which includes the victims and youth services bureaus, is staffed entirely by civilian administrators and counselors, director Cynthia Harris said.

Hiring civilians for administrative and clerical positions follows a national trend of police departments creating civilian-staffed social service departments under the same roof as law enforcement operations, Harris said.

EPD’s social services bureau was created in 1976. Its civilian staff offers counseling and advocacy to victims of crimes and accidents, as well as a variety of youth services, including mentoring, Harris said.

Harris said other organizations look to police departments like EPD as models.

“People from departments around the country approach me at conferences and ask me how we operate,” Harris said. “We are unusual in the extent of services we offer within the police department.”

EPD’s records bureau and communications division are also staffed by non-officers. The directors of the major civilian divisions meet with EPD’s supervising officers at quarterly administration meetings, but they do not attend all departmental meetings.

Harris said that she would like to see greater cooperation between officers and the civilian staff.

“I don’t think, historically, that law enforcement has been very accepting of social service providers,” she said. “We get a lot of support nowadays, but I think there are still a few people who don’t think we should be here.”