Evanston’s elected officials made big promises on public safety. Here are their primary efforts.


Daily file photo by Zack Laurence

An Evanston Police Department squad car. Discussions on public safety reform involve conversations about shifting and reorganizing police responsibility.

Isabelle Butera, Reporter

Following Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020, several of Evanston’s public officials promised policing reform and campaigned on public safety issues for the 2021 municipal elections. While the city held extensive discussions with community members, Evanston has yet to transform these discussions into legislative change. 

Here are the primary efforts the city has started. 

Reimagining Public Safety Committee

The Reimagining Public Safety Committee, established by Mayor Daniel Biss in May 2021, has led much of the city’s investigation into public safety reform. The committee, which is composed of councilmembers, community leaders and activists, aims to provide a “holistic data-driven analysis” of Evanston Police Department and offer budget recommendations. 

The committee aimed to offer recommendations for the 2022 city budget. However, Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the committee did not propose those recommendations, but aims to present them for the 2023 budget. 

The committee meets bimonthly and is divided into three sub-groups: Breaking down Data (EPD) Group, Violence Prevention/Strategies Group and Rethinking the Organizational Structure Group. 

Rethinking Organizational Structure Group

The Organizational Structure Group within the Reimagining Public Safety Committee, formed in summer 2021, analyzes data from the EPD and examines how police responsibilities could be distributed to an alternative group. 

The group met in August 2021 with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, who suggested Evanston could follow the model of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota to create a community response department or unarmed civilian traffic enforcement department to replace certain police duties. 

Patrick Keenan-Devlin, a committee member and the Moran Center’s executive director, said the Rethinking the Organizational Structure Group presented a similar model to the larger Reimagining Public Safety Committee, and hopes to present the proposed model to the public soon. 

Violence Prevention/Strategies Sub-Group 

Led by Northwestern sociology Prof. Andrew Papachristos, the Violence Prevention/Strategies group seeks to identify gaps in Evanston’s response to violence. Papachristos said the group operates under the framework that causes of crime are systemic which require both immediate and long-term solutions.

Based on its findings, the sub-group concluded the city should focus on three programs: creating a violence prevention office, creating a trauma-informed victim’s services position and building an immediate street outreach program. 

Most of the committee’s violence prevention recommendations are still in discussion. But the violence prevention subgroup played a role in the recent expansion of the My City, Your City, Our City program, which started in 2021 to address the youth isolation that contributes to gun violence.

Citizen Police Review Commission

Formed in July of 2020 as a subcommittee of the city’s Human Services Committee, the Citizen Police Review Commission investigates department inquiries and complaints filed with the police department. If the committee decides EPD sufficiently investigated the complaint, it will pass it on to the Human Services Committee. If not, the complaint will be sent back to EPD.

The commission aims to conduct an unbiased review of EPD’s complaint investigation to promote accountability and professionalism. It’s on the path to reach that goal and still working to build community trust in the police through transparency, Commission Chair Juneitha Shambee said. 

“Many people don’t believe that if they were to bring any sort of complaints to the police department, anything would get done, because there’s been so much distrust,” Shambee said. “We do have (citizen’s) interests at heart.”

When reviewing citizen complaints, Shambee said she takes into account her background as a lawyer and her experience as a community member. She said she puts herself in the shoes of the individual who filed the complaint, and treats the incident with the seriousness she would expect. 

Fund reallocation

During the 2021 municipal elections, some local politicians including Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) and Biss, promised to reallocate funds from EPD to social services. 

Reid said the city’s 2022 budget includes no significant reallocation of police funding to other departments such as Health and Human Services, Parks and Recreation or the Office of Sustainability.

More work required

Some public officials and committee members say progress on public safety reform has only just begun. 

“Like all good advocates, I’m impatient,” Keenan-Devlin said. “I would hope that we could move faster but I understand that these are heavy lifts and it will take political will and time and organizing and community education to explain why these approaches work.” 

Keenan-Devlin said he hopes to see a restorative approach to public safety that considers community needs and is less reliant on institutions. 

Reid said the Reimagining Public Safety Committee was a good first step, but he hopes to continue the committee’s research in addition to his own initiatives to increase police transparency, rewrite city ordinances and decriminalize drugs. 

“The pandemic was really a rallying call to follow the data, follow the science, and not follow just emotion.” Reid said. “When it comes to policing right now, our approach is based more on emotion and more in fear of our neighbors than it is in understanding how we really get to the root causes of … nonviolent and violent crime.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @isabelle_butera

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