Committee discusses flaws in police complaint process, lack of complainant support


Nikki Baim/The Daily Northwestern

Committee chair Matthew Mitchell discusses Evanston’s current police complaint process. The Citizen Police Complaint Assessment Committee will report its recommendations in May.

Nikki Baim, Reporter

The Citizen Police Complaint Assessment Committee addressed the weaknesses of Evanston’s current complaint process at a Wednesday meeting.

In the penultimate meeting before members must create a report of their findings to present to the Human Services Committee in May, the committee honed in on changes that could realistically be implemented in the complaint process.

“There’s a way to do that without reinventing the entire wheel,” committee member Jeff Parker said. “I’m not sure that it’s a changing of the model concern as much as it is strengthening the model.”

The Evanston Police Department currently utilizes a review process. Once a complaint is filed, the Office of Professional Standards begins an investigation by speaking with the individual and compiling evidence. The complaint is then reviewed at Citizens’ Police Advisory Committee and Human Services Committee meetings.

Committee member Jared Davis said he is concerned about how complainants perceive the process, since the Citizens’ Police Advisory Committee lacks the power to overturn a complaint.

“It seems like they can’t have an impact,” Davis said. “A model like ours is not effective. It doesn’t do what I think we’re looking to do.”

EPD Sgt. Dennis Leaks said if the majority of the advisory committee disagrees with a complaint, it will be taken back to the chief of police for review. However, he added that this has not happened in any of the 27 complaints filed over the last two years.

Committee chair Matthew Mitchell said he and other members plan to attend the Citizens’ Police Advisory Committee meeting next Wednesday, where the committee will review four police complaints. This is the first time the Citizens’ Police Advisory Committee will review a complaint since the Citizen Police Complaint Assessment Committee assembled last October.

Another flaw in the process is the lack of support for complainants, committee member Karen Courtright said.

“There’s no one to help them through the process,” she said. “There’s no one to advocate for them, as for the police officer has the weight of his or her office and the department.”

To address this, the committee has been researching ways to use mediation as a supplement to the process, Mitchell said. Mitchell is involved in the Alternative Dispute Resolution community — a practice of law that uses mediation — and he used to work as a mediator.

He said the practice was common, but “not very highly utilized.” Mitchell added that in New York City, only two of the thousands of complaints filed in 2017 were mediated.

“You can create the best system, but if it doesn’t work in practice, it’s obsolete,” Mitchell said.

The committee emphasized the importance of their recommendations actually being implemented. In order to assure their work is recognized, committee members agreed to present incremental changes, such as changes to the complaint form, before introducing a new process.

“Change is not an easy thing to create even when everyone has the best intentions,” committee member Meggie Smith said. “I want to make sure it’s something that actually happens rather than a beautiful idea that sit in a drawer.”

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