Evanston holds police chief forum following criticism of search process


Photo by Jorge Melendez

Evanston Police Department. Members of EPD updated City Council on the state of the department Tuesday, nearly a year after the new police chief’s swearing-in.

Elena Hubert, Copy Chief

Three finalists for Evanston Police Department’s next chief discussed staffing shortages, community-centered policing and crime reduction at a Thursday forum.

The finalists, Migdalia Bulnes, Joshua Hunt and Schenita Stewart, answered questions submitted by residents. Sol Anderson, president and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation, moderated the event.

The next chief will be the department’s fourth in the past year. The turnover marks the city’s second major leadership scramble this year, following City Manager Luke Stowe’s internal hiring last month.

A form for resident feedback will be made available on the city’s website following the forum, according to a city statement. Pending community feedback, Stowe will interview the candidates and make the final hiring decision.

City leadership chose from a pool of ten candidates referred to them by Interim Police Chief Richard Eddington — the former EPD chief who came out of retirement in January to assist the department — and police leadership organizations, according to a city statement.

The search for EPD’s leader has been criticized for allegedly violating the city’s employee handbook. The Chicago Tribune reported last month the city did not create a job description nor post the position online, instead drawing candidates only from referrals. Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) told the Tribune the decision for a referral-based search was made by former Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski.

The handbook requires positions to be “publicized to a wide audience of potential candidates” and job postings to be public for a minimum of 10 calendar days.

The City of Evanston did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Daily.

All three candidates said filling current vacancies is their number one priority. EPD Cmdr. Ryan Glew told The Daily in May that the department has 27 officer vacancies. 

Tuesday’s conversation also came after shootings in Evanston and Rogers Park last week. All three candidates agreed that addressing gun violence, which Stewart called a “public health issue,” would be one of their main priorities, along with recruitment.

“We’re going to have to ask those officers, those men and women that have dedicated themselves, their lives really to protecting this community, ‘What’s good? What’s bad? What would keep you? What would drive you away?’” Hunt said. “We have to… put those answers into practical use.”

Hunt, chief of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Investigations Bureau, said the bureau’s zero percent attrition rate proves his chops in recruitment and retention. 

Bulnes, deputy chief of police for the Chicago Police Department, said she emphasized recruiting community members in her past assignment as the CPD’s deputy chief of recruitment and retention.

Stewart, deputy chief of police for the East Dundee Police Department, said recruitment efforts should hinge on community engagement by officers and police leadership. Stewart was born and raised in Evanston, which she said gives her a vested interest in the community’s well-being.

“We can use social media, but it (recruitment) should be done by the people that work here in Evanston,” she said.

In a May town hall, Evanston residents said they wanted to see more community engagement from the department. All candidates said they would prioritize visibility in the community as chief, regularly interacting with residents. 

Hunt proposed implementing “Wednesday ward walks,” where he would walk every ward every Wednesday. Stewart said she would physically ensure the department’s mission was being met by “being out there, being present.” Bulnes suggested bringing CPD’s weekly practice of “Friday night vigils,” where officers engage with religious leaders and residents, to Evanston.

The candidates also discussed increasing de-escalation and anti-discriminatory practices in Evanston policing. All three also supported working with a police advisory board.

“You get your police back to where they need to be with the violence,” Bulnes said. “Now their time is now dedicated to where it belongs… any kind of alternative arrest, any kind of repair method that we need for an individual that may need it.”

Former Police Chief Demitrous Cook retired last June after he was sued for posting mugshots of EPD suspects, some with written commentary, on his public Snapchat account. His interim replacement, Aretha Barnes, retired in January, prompting Eddington’s return.

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Twitter: @elenahubert25

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