Citizens Police Review Commission examines citizen complaint process in first meeting

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Daily file photo by Christopher Vazquez

Evanston Police Chief Demitrous Cook. Cook answered questions about the role of the Citizens Police Review Commission in citizen complaint reviews at Wednesday’s commission meeting.

Annika Hiredesai, Reporter

Evanston’s Citizens Police Review Commission, discussed the citizen complaint process at its initial meeting on Wednesday. 

The commission, a subcommittee of Human Services, was instituted in Oct. 2019 “to address issues of complaints filed by citizens against an Evanston police officer.”  

Sgt. Aaron Wernick of the Office of Professional Standards presented the complaint process overview to the commission. He detailed the organizational structure of the Evanston Police Department, the types of investigations conducted and the process by which complaints are reviewed. 

Investigations are broken down into four separate categories, with Departmental Inquiry and Complaint Register falling within the purview of the commission. However, Administrative Reviews, which are randomly conducted four times per month for every officer, are internal investigations. Juneitha Shambee, an Evanston-based attorney, asked if a citizen involved in an incident would still be reached out to during an Administrative Review.

“Not unless there is something that is deemed a rule violation,” Wernick said. “The sergeant may call that citizen to get a witness statement depending on the severity of what they’re seeing.”

After a complaint is filed, OPS reviews and investigates each complaint. It then goes through a series of supervisor reviews, ending with “the Chief of Police — the defining internal arbitrator — for modification (or) final approval” according to the complaint process overview.

This point raised some questions among commission members, with Interim Assistant City Manager Kimberly Richardson asking, “Can you explain why the police chief is the one that makes the final say on discipline? Why have this committee?” Police Chief Demitrous Cook explained how the commission’s recommendations would be taken into account.

“You all are a subcommittee of Human Services. We’re here to listen. That’s what I’m here to do,” Cook said. “You all may have a different perspective about what discipline was issued or why it was done like that. That’s why when it gets to you all, it hasn’t gotten to the officer yet, and we can adjust it if that needs to be done.”

The commission also nominated Shambee as chair for the 2020-21 term. They will review their first three complaints at their next meeting on Sept. 3. 

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