City staff discuss youth outreach, employment opportunities and alternatives to arrest during policing Q&A


Daily file photo by Emma Edmund

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd). Braithwaite, chair of the Alternatives to Arrest Committee, highlighted some steps committee members have taken to establish alternatives to arrest.

Julia Richardson, Reporter

Mayor Steve Hagerty hosted his weekly Q&A on policing in Evanston on Monday, this time focusing on community outreach and alternatives to arrest.

Staff in community services do an assessment on clients to determine what services they need, whether it’s housing, employment or even assisting other family members, according to Community Services Manager Audrey Thompson.

“We are the people that the young people want to see before they see a police officer… We really should be called family services because we really just can’t work with the young person, we have to work with the entire family,” Thompson said. “So if that means employment for the father or the mother, if the housing conditions are not up to par… whether it’s substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, all of that, we just do a comprehensive assessment and we go where that assessment leads.”

Interim Senior Outreach Worker Jermey McCray said staff sets certain goals with clients based on what they want to accomplish. He also emphasized the importance of building relationships and trust with clients.

“We’re just here to help youth and young adults tap into the untapped potential that they have, whether it’s going to get an ID, updating resumes (or) getting a transitional job,” McCray said.

McCray then introduced Darian Austin, a formerly incarcerated Evanston resident who has participated in community outreach programs. McCray said that although Austin has done the work himself, staff have been an extra support system and have helped him get employment and housing opportunities. Now, he has the opportunity to work with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Hagerty asked Austin whether he believed his interactions with Evanston Police Department could have been resolved in a different way. Austin recounted an incident in which he was walking with his friend when a police officer stopped them and suspected they were selling drugs. He was fifteen years old at the time, and although he and his friend were let go, Austin said it was still a scary experience, especially since he is a law abiding citizen and follows the rules.

“I actually had my hand in my pocket and he told me don’t move my hand or he’ll break it,” Austin said. “From that point on, you know, I thought of… the police differently. So, yeah, it most definitely could have been handled differently.”

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd), chair of the Alternatives to Arrest Committee, said committee members have been working on alternatives that would prevent youth from encountering the employment barriers they might see as a result of arrest. He also said members have carefully reviewed past cases of arrest and made sure to adjust ordinances according to their goals.

However, he said that large offenses, such as assault, battery or significant drug related crimes still warrant harsher punishment.

“We’re talking about the students and the young adults who make, what I would call, like a silly mistake, a poor judgment, or just not thinking,” Braithwaite said. “So looking at those offenses and making sure that we treat them… as a municipal ticket similar to a parking ticket.”

Youth and Young Adult Program Supervisor Nathan Norman highlighted some of the ways he and other staff members have been involved in helping youth find jobs. He said Hagerty’s Summer Youth Employment Program has helped increase the number of jobs that the city offers, going from around 150 in 2012 to over 600 in 2019.

He also said that more recently, staff has been working on post-graduation options for youth and have partnered with different employers to place them in positions they are interested in.

“We have some young people in this community that don’t feel like they have job prospects and start to run with the wrong crowd and do things that they shouldn’t do, and you know, ultimately come into contact with the police,” Hagerty said. “If we want to improve policing in our community and spend less on policing…we need to do more to help young people that are struggling to get their degrees or get a certificate, so that they can then get a job.”

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