Q&A: Evanston police chief Schenita Stewart discusses transition, community engagement and combating gun violence

A woman is shown from the chest up in a navy suit with a blue striped shirt.

Photo courtesy of the City of Evanston

Evanston Police Department chief Schenita Stewart. Sworn in last month, she is the department’s first Black female police chief.

Elena Hubert, Copy Chief

Evanston’s first Black female police chief, Schenita Stewart, stepped into a role last month that three others have filled since 2021. The Daily spoke to Stewart about her transition into leading a department with high turnover as gun violence and crime are on the rise.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily: How has the transition into your role been so far?

Stewart: It’s special for me, being from Evanston, being born and raised and growing up here, and just getting back. Some of the learning is just me reintroducing myself to the community and getting out there. 

The Daily: You grew up in the Fifth Ward and went to Evanston Township High School. How has your upbringing affected some of the changes you want to implement as police chief?

Stewart: Definitely the visibility. I was in the Fifth Ward earlier, just kind of walking around, being seen. I think when you’re out of the car, you’re in the community, people have access to you, they feel much more comfortable bringing issues to you directly. I want our officers to be more visible and have those community engagements.

The Daily: Just 9% of EPD officers live in Evanston. How do you want to increase officers’ engagement with the community?

Stewart: Yes, a lot of officers don’t live within the community boundaries, but they do a lot outside of their day-to-day job in being part of the community. Their participation in FAAM (Fellowship of Afro-American Men Youth Basketball League) or other opportunities for youth engagement — they’re not getting paid for that. They do that genuinely just because they care, and they want to be part of the community.

The Daily: You’re the fourth chief that EPD has seen in the past year. How do you want to establish a sense of normalcy or consistency?

Stewart: I came up right now with a survey to get feedback (from employees), and I want to do this as a department. How we can do this better, not only (in terms of) retention for me, but retention for others within the organization. I want to make this a good place for people to come to work and enjoy coming. Yes, I have to deal with staffing, recruitment and retention. But, I think the important (part) is the retention, to keep people here.

The Daily: In July, a 13-year-old was severely wounded after a shooting on Fowler Avenue, and in August, Devin McGregor, a Willard Elementary student, was shot and killed in Rogers Park. How are you planning to counter gun violence?

Stewart: That is definitely a big issue for me. Besides data-driven policing, I want to work collaboratively with other agencies. The situation with “Boom” (Devin McGregor) was close to home for me as a family member. We have a net and tech unit (monitoring crime and gun violence) to direct (police officers) for opportunities in which we can try to effectively take guns off the street. So there are definitely efforts being made. I definitely understand gun violence, unfortunately, since Devin McGregor was my nephew’s son.

Also, follow-up for gun violence with victims’ families is a protocol we’re working on. I know after that first year, people kind of forget about the victims or the families. I want to put something into place where we, at the very least, make a phone call to these victims’ families to follow up. 

The Daily: The police department’s labor union agreements are expiring in December. How are you planning to approach that negotiation process?

Stewart: I’m going to work with the city to get ready for negotiations. This has definitely been a rough time for EPD. They’ve gone through civil unrest, a pandemic, these staffing shortages have been a lot. I want to hopefully work with them to come to a happy medium for negotiations and see if we can come to an agreement that’s best for not only the union, (but) best for the city.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @elenahubert25

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