Letter to the Editor: EPD continuously works to improve, recognizes body cameras aren’t sweeping solution

The Evanston Police Department thanks the Daily Northwestern Editorial Board for its Feb. 11 commentary regarding body cameras’ role in resolving Evanston police issues and racial bias. Focusing attention upon a perceived problem is essential to its resolution. The editorial concludes that body-worn cameras are only one tool to hold police accountable and that “EPD must also consistently work to address implicit biases in policing, excessive use of force and concerns about racial profiling, among other institutional issues.” I wholeheartedly agree. While I appreciate the effort to tell the story of policing in Evanston, I would like to take the opportunity to elaborate on this story to help our community more fully understand the context of serving and protecting in Evanston and determine the best ways forward.

The Daily editorial alludes to the regrettable Lawrence Crosby traffic stop, an incident thoroughly reviewed by departmental leadership. As a result of the review, I revised departmental policies to ensure felony traffic stops are undertaken more safely and humanely. City manager Wally Bobkiewicz and I also developed a 27-point working plan to improve specific aspects of departmental operations. Notably, the plan incorporates a variety of tools intended to enhance transparency.

The Daily mentions several actions the police department has taken toward improvement: development of an updated, longer-term curriculum for its diversity and inclusion program, continued training on different de-escalation techniques and suggested reforms to the citizen complaint process. The editorial asserts that EPD “…still needs more comprehensive change which addresses issues in their broader context.” Perhaps the significance of these ongoing efforts is being underestimated. These steps, along with others outlined in the working plan, are actions that have been called for by activists and other interested parties across the nation. With the support of Mayor Steve Hagerty and members of City Council, EPD is working earnestly to improve community relations and address racial bias.

The editorial fails to mention the many Evanston police officers who are personally involved in our community, often volunteering their own time. Examples include Officer and Gentlemen mentoring, FAAM basketball coaching, the reinstitution of the Police Explorer program and presentation of The Law and Your Community classes.

I think it’s noteworthy to also add the number of recorded police interactions with the public alongside the number of citizen complaints and compliments. In 2017, there were 69,976 interactions, 10 complaints and 176 compliments. Similar statistics have been published in our annual report for the last 10 years. It is my opinion that even the best service organizations would be proud of these figures.

Finally, a crucial and often unrecognized fact regarding police-community race relations is the disproportionate representation of minorities as crime victims and offenders. In 2016, the last year for which statistics are available, African Americans represented 56 percent of crime victims in the city of Evanston and 61 percent of offenders as described by crime victims. This data should be considered in evaluating demographic statistics of police activities. It’s business, not always or necessarily bias.

Departmental and individual officer actions demonstrate our ongoing efforts to address the issues raised in The Daily Northwestern’s editorial. To expect error-free policing in an open and democratic society is to invite disappointment. It’s unrealistic. However, it is realistic to expect a full accounting of police actions and activities. We have not and will not rely solely on body cameras to hold officers accountable or to build community relations. We should all consider this a work in progress. Community collaboration and input, including your editorial, is a key component in our advancement.

In closing, I extend my appreciation to deputy chief Jay Parrott and Cmdr. Joseph Dugan for their efforts in establishing the body-worn camera program.

Richard Eddington
Evanston Police Chief