Evanston Police Department had an increased level of resignations in 2021. Here’s what the future looks like


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

In the past year, Evanston Police Department dealt with changing leadership, high levels of resignations, higher rates of calls for service than neighboring districts and a rising crime rate. The Evanston community is discussing the changing role of EPD and alternative response groups.

Isabelle Butera, Reporter

Last year, Evanston Police Department faced an unusually high number of resignations and multiple chief turnovers. For police personnel and city leaders, these changes renewed discussions about EPD’s scope and capabilities. 

EPD has 27 officer vacancies, according to Cmdr. Ryan Glew, although the city budgeted for 154 officers in 2021, its lowest level since 1993. The department also faced a decrease of 14 officers from 2020, according to a report presented by Chief Richard Eddington at a March meeting of the Human Services Committee.

Glew said EPD’s high resignation rate is due to officers taking “lateral opportunities” at other police departments. Because departments in other municipalities are suffering similar shortages, higher-paying opportunities draw officers away from EPD, he said.

These resignations are also unusual because most of the officers leaving are mid-career, Glew said. Normally, Glew said higher turnover is expected with newer officers. 

The resignations represent a monetary loss for EPD. In a report presented to the Human Services Committee in March, Eddington said the 22 resignations detailed in the report represented 16,584 hours of training and 137 combined years of experience leaving the department. 

EPD allotted more than $160,000 for personnel training in 2020, an increase of about $50,000 from its actual training expenditure in 2019. 

Mikhail Geyer, an EPD officer and Special Operations Group detective, said a change in Illinois pension laws about ten years ago exacerbated the high levels of resignations. Geyer said the new laws increased the portability of pensions, which lowered the cost for an officer transferring their pension when moving departments. 

Shifting community discussions about police reform also played a role in EPD departures, Geyer said. As Evanston engages in conversations about the future of policing, Geyer said some officers feel there hasn’t been genuine partnership between the community and the department. 

“I want to be very clear, we are open to those discussions,” Geyer said. “We always have been. It’s just hearing some of these folks who are leaving who feel like … they’re not part of that conversation, they don’t have a seat at the table.” 

Geyer said officers have a vested interest in the future of EPD and bring frontline, on-the-ground expertise to the community conversation about the future of policing.  

Doing more with less

High levels of resignations have put a strain on EPD resources, Geyer said. The department shifted from 8-hour to 12-hour shifts for officers, which Geyer described as “burdensome,” especially for officers with families at home. 

EPD is also a busier police department than its neighbors, further constraining personnel. Eddington’s March report showed Evanston has higher calls for service per resident than comparable suburbs. 

“The call load is substantial here,” Eddington said at the meeting. “Once again, if you had that level of call load with this low number of officers, you’re basically subtracting the time available for proactive policing.” 

Due to the reduction in officers, EPD moved officers from investigative positions, which aim to stop crime at the source, to patrol positions. In March, Eddington called for an increase in budgeted officers to fill these vacancies and deal with the higher level of crime in Evanston since 2018.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said he is in support of filling the current vacancies but not increasing funding for EPD personnel. 

“I certainly do not believe that this police department, or any police department in this country, has proven that putting more funding into their department has achieved the goal that Evanston has for increasing equality and improving public safety,” Reid said.

Impacts on the crime rate 

Eddington told the Human Services Committee in March there is a correlation between the reduction in manpower and the current uptick in Evanston’s crime rate. With fewer resources to apply to “hotspots” and special units focused on preventing crime, Eddington said EPD needs an increase of budgeted officers to deal with this increase in crime. 

However, Betty Ester, president of Citizens’ Network of Protection, said EPD has never been responsive enough to complaints, despite fluctuations in manpower. She said she sees no reason to increase the number of budgeted officers at EPD. 

“If (EPD) can start listening to the people and working with the people, then there (will be) no problem,” Ester said. 

Studies from the University of Florida and the police oversight non-profit the Garrison Project found no correlation between changes in police staffing levels and the rate of crime. They also found higher police manpower does not effectively deter crime.

Changing leadership 

On top of high levels of officer resignation, EPD has had three different police chiefs over the past year. Chief Demitrous Cook retired in June 2021, followed by Chief Aretha Barnes in January. Chief Eddington will serve as the interim chief until the city manager selects a permanent chief of police. 

Despite this turnover, Glew said the department’s standards for potential candidates remain high. 

“Anybody that’s a chief here comes up with the understanding that there’s an expectation of getting engagement and accessibility to the community, that they are going to be respectful and an active listener with stakeholders,” Glew said. “Those are things that are going to remain constant.” 

Geyer echoed Glew and said officers adjusted well to each new chief. While he said the changes have impacted officers, the existing structure of command keeps the day-to-day operations stable. 

Looking forward 

Evanston is expected to name a permanent police chief sometime this summer, Reid said, likely after a new city manager is chosen. 

As for the staffing crisis, new programs have been implemented and proposed to reduce the scope of EPD’s duties as a result of community discussions. 

Reid said he supports decreasing the department’s scope of responsibility. He added that other forms of law enforcement, including Evanston’s property standards divisions, could serve as a model for changes to EPD. 

“We can look at that model, and how that form of law enforcement has worked without violating citizens’ rights and without causing bodily harm to citizens,” he said. “I think you can replicate that.” 

Eddington said in March that EPD is in “full support” of alternative responses to police for mental health emergencies, particularly the Living Room Program, which would provide trauma-informed care for individuals experiencing a mental health emergency. City Council voted unanimously to fund the living room’s development with American Rescue Plan Act funds in March.

The Reimagining Public Safety Committee is also investigating alternative models of policing following the model of the Brooklyn Center in Minnesota, which reallocates police responsibility to unarmed community response groups. 

The future chief of police will need to navigate EPD through community discourse on the shifting role of police and dealing with personnel vacancies.   

Ester said she hopes the new police chief will be “one that is open-minded to change.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @isabelle_butera

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