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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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City Council approves non-police alternative for 911 response to start by June

Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
Commander Scott Sophier of Evanston Police Department addresses City Council in support of the Alternative Community Response Initiative.

Starting this summer, community responders, instead of police officers, will respond to many low-risk Evanston 911 calls.

On Monday, City Council unanimously approved the Alternative Community Response Initiative. Set to take effect by June, the plan will allow unarmed community responders to handle low-risk 911 calls, instead of delegating all calls to law enforcement.

The program was developed based on a report from the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which the City contracted in 2022.

“This has been a long time coming, and a lot of work has gone into this,” Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said. “I’m really excited that we’re here and really excited about moving this forward.” 

Parks and Recreation Department Director Audrey Thompson said that the city has closely followed LEAP’s suggestions, except that the program will initially run between 1-10 p.m. rather than the original recommendation that the program be active 24 hours a day. 

Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) said he is in favor of giving the program more funding for it to be active 24/7 in the near future and is committed to funding the project so it can run smoothly.

Mayor Daniel Biss said it is “important and healthy” that the program operates outside of the Evanston Police Department. Instead, the program will be housed within the Department of Parks and Recreation, based on LEAP’s recommendations, and build off the department’s existing youth outreach program.

“This is a vital program because law enforcement has their way, and an alternative community response has its way,” Thompson said. “We don’t always agree as to how things should be executed, and that’s why you need both programs.”

Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) said the program will work “in tandem” with the police, rather than competing with them. 

According to the initiative’s memorandum, the first stage of the program’s implementation will direct community service officers to well-being checks, nuisance complaints, soliciting complaints and other low-risk reports. 

“Since George Floyd, we understand that people … especially our Black and Brown communities, are afraid of the police,” Harris said. “I think working together will help, and I think the community will see that.”

Representing the Evanston Police Department, Cmdr. Scott Sophier said the department fully supports the program and its rollout.

Biss said the city’s Human Services Committee should regularly check in on the program. Nieuwsma requested that, in the next committee meeting, the Parks and Recreation Department “connects the dots” between the proposal and input from stakeholders. 

Councilmembers also addressed the need for raising awareness of the changes among residents once the program is implemented. 

“The community is going to be really interested in sharing these ideas with friends and neighbors,” Biss said. “It is really consistent with what our community is looking for.”

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