I wrote this letter, part of the department’s annual report, in consultation with the Chief of Police of Evanston, Illinois.
2012 Letter from Chief Richard Eddington
March 21, 2013
To the Citizens of Evanston:
This year’s Annual Report has an improved look and feel. It is designed to be more accessible and attractive. The differences start with the cover. In the recent past we’ve shown photos of various badges; this year we’ve replaced them with our police patch, which symbolizes the unity of the entire department. Within this letter, hot links have been included for the reader’s convenience.
2012 was a year of challenges and accomplishments. In the first category was the continuing gun violence that has plagued urban centers across the country, which in Evanston led to three homicides. Two of them involved young people under the age of 21, compounding the tragedy and sense of loss shared by the whole community.
In response, the City of Evanston and the Police Department have mounted a number of initiatives to target at-risk youth and mitigate gun violence. These include an anti-violence Town Hall meeting, the development of the Mayor’s Youth & Young Adult Task Force, reconstitution of the Mayor’s Youth Council, the Mayor’s Safe Summer Summit and the creation of the Mayor’s Super Summer Recreation Program.
Recovering guns that could be used in crimes remains a high priority. Evanston’s first cash-for-guns program, held in December 2012 at Christ Temple MB Church, netted a total of 46 firearms, of which 26 were handguns. Getting guns off the street helps prevent accidental shootings, stolen guns, crimes of passion and gang violence. Funding for the program was made available from Northwestern University, NorthShore University Health System, the Cherry Family Foundation, Evanston Community Foundation plus individual donors. More than $4,000 was paid out, leaving approximately $15,000 available with which we plan to hold other gun buyback initiatives in the near future.
Importantly, the gun buyback was operated under an amnesty arrangement. We pledged that even guns for which a person could not show legal ownership would be accepted without questions raised or arrests made. We believed this had a doubly positive effect of increasing the number of guns turned in and reinforcing the community’s trust in the department’s credibility.
The Police Department maintains a strong ongoing focus on preventing crime, with a special emphasis on the city’s youth. Members of the department’s Youth Services Bureau work in the middle schools and Evanston Township High School to build rapport with students and promote good citizenship. In 2012 we launched the Youth Citizen Police Academy, a series of classes and lectures for young people aimed at increasing their understanding of law enforcement issues. The class graduated 10 students, and we plan to offer it again in the summer of 2013.
Another Police Department initiative targeted at young people is the Restorative Justice program. This is a holistic approach to crime that brings together victim, offender, their families and community volunteers, under the supervision of trained facilitators. The goal is to hold offenders accountable to the people and the community they have harmed, while providing a range of opportunities for dialogue, problem-solving and competency development. Importantly, the program gives the department a way to divert minors charged with petty crimes and misdemeanors from the formal juvenile justice system.
Last year 210 people – victims, offenders and their families– participated in 30 “Peacemaking Circles.” The success rate for those who went through the program was quite high: 94 percent of youth offenders who completed the program did not reoffend within a year.
The Evanston Police Department partners with many different city government divisions and outside resources to work together in reducing youth related crime and violent behaviors. An example of this support is through the Evanston Parks and Recreation Department. In February of 2012 a job-training program was launched that connects outreach workers with at-risk youth and young adults. The program is designed to provide internships and work opportunities to young people, and channel their energies away from gang activities and gun violence. So far 15 young people have been enrolled in job-training programs designed to steer them to viable careers. The police department fully supports this effort in an attempt to reduce violence among our young citizens of Evanston.
Over the last few years the city has invested heavily in crime-fighting technology. Cameras have been placed at strategic sites around the community – for example along Howard Street and near the high school – to give us a 24/7 real-time view of the streets. To accomplish that has meant building infrastructure to relay wireless signals across town to the police station, which is far more cost- effective than stringing fiber cable underground. While we cannot be certain how many crimes this technology has prevented, we know from experience that cameras are a strong, visible and effective deterrent to criminal activity that can be invaluable in providing evidence after the fact.
We also practice a data-driven policing strategy. This is used, for instance, in how we deploy manpower to higher-crime areas. Our visible presence helps reassure residents and discourage prospective criminals, part of our ongoing focus on preventing and suppressing crime.
In addition we continue to work hard to promote community policing. This is the philosophy and practice of building relationships with the public and community groups to increase confidence in local law enforcement and address and deter crime through stronger community-police partnerships. Our goal is to get more citizens to take an active role in looking out for and reporting crime or suspicious activity.
One example of the effectiveness of this approach was the arrest last December involving a burglary in south Evanston, the result of a call we received at our 911 Communications Center from a teen caller. The arrest helped clear a number of other burglaries throughout the city and resulted in the apprehension of a career criminal.
By partnering with other city departments we have also launched and strengthened numerous other crime-reduction and crime-prevention initiatives, including:
- Enhancing street lighting and tree-trimming activities in targeted areas,
- Providing additional security cameras around ETHS,
- Creating a new resource website and Facebook page for young people,
- Providing economic development assistance to organizations such as Curt’s Café, a not-for- profit business that employs and trains young adult ex-offenders in the restaurant trade,
- Evaluating new infrastructure and development projects to identify ways to deter crime, such as the installation of cul de sacs and pedestrian lighting,
- Developing a safe neighborhood infrastructure and lighting improvements for ETHS and adjacent neighborhoods,
- Creating a community health center, the Erie Family Health Center, which will provide health care and psychosocial supports to people in need,
- Partnering with school districts 65 and 202 to promote “Let’s Move,” an initiative designed to improve physical activity and good nutrition, and
- Developing a community gardening project for West-End Market Second Chance program for ex-offenders.
For these and other tactical programs to work effectively, trust in local law enforcement is essential. To help instill trust in Evanston policing, we strongly promote transparency in our activities. We work closely with the local media, issue frequent news releases on our web site and encourage citizens to subscribe to our daily crime bulletin.
Transparency is paramount especially when faced with controversy. In August 2012 the department was suddenly thrust into the limelight when an Evanston youth was briefly detained on suspicion of a nearby burglary. Afterwards his family publicly questioned the police’s actions and denounced racial profiling. The city’s hearings were broadcast on community TV and the department’s internal affairs report was posted online. The report documented misunderstandings but no unjustifiable actions on the part of the police. Regardless of the merits of the case, our position is that it is always best to evaluate, debate and handle these issues as openly as possible. To that end, we hired an outside consultant to develop further training on racial profiling and bias, which this department does not and never will tolerate.
In 2012, we set up a website to help citizens identify and recover stolen property. So far, we’ve received more than 20 inquiries online and over the phone. We also post videos on YouTube, providing clips on everything from department news conferences to the effects of immoderate drinking on students of high school age.
On November 9, 2012, we hosted our second annual Police Tweet-Along. During the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift the city tweeted continuously to give citizens a close look at how we operate and handle routine and emergency service calls. The city has more than 3,500 Twitter followers, and interest in the program extended to the Evanston and Chicago media. Two Chicago TV networks –NBC Channel 5 and Telemundo – broadcast part of the event live from our police station.
Another program designed to educate the public about local law enforcement is the Evanston Citizen’s Police Academy. Started in 1995, the Academy provides a free, comprehensive 12-week course in the basics of policing, featuring officer-led lectures and demonstrations, squad car ride-alongs and interactive exercises that demonstrate the unique challenges and hazards of urban law enforcement.
In 2012 the Academy graduated 52 students, bringing the total number of graduates in 17 years to 824. These men and women serve as ambassadors in their neighborhoods, encouraging and promoting better police-community relations and understanding.
In the realm of traffic safety, Evanston continues to excel. As a result of superior enforcement and education, in 2012 we won the Illinois Traffic Safety Challenge for the second year in a row, coming in first in our class.
All of this work, and much more – the combined efforts of 217 Evanston Police Department professionals, plus the citizens who work with us – have helped reduce crime in our city. Long-term trends are highly favorable. In 2002, Evanston experienced 4,436 Category 1 crimes, which includes all “serious” crimes, personal and property. In 2012 that number was 2,309. That’s a 48 percent decrease in ten years. Obviously, we are pleased serious crime is decreasing in our city. Just as obviously, we cannot stop striving to improve local law enforcement and lower crime rates still further.
I am a firm believer that numbers, no matter how good, do not tell the whole story. Far from it. A victim is a person, not a number. And for every victim, crime exacts heartache and trauma, which extends to families and the community as a whole. That’s why we work hard every day to meet the goals of our Mission Statement, “…to enhance Evanston’s quality of life through service to and protection of all who visit, live and work within the city…through the honor, integrity and teamwork department members demonstrate as they enforce the law with dignity, respect and a sense of self-worth, thereby reducing the incidence and fear of crime.”
There’s an important role for you in helping make Evanston a better, safer city. It starts with helping police by being observant. As the slogan says, if you see something, say something. If you witness unusual or suspicious activity in your community call 911 or text the police. You can anonymously Text-A-Tip to CRIMES (274637) using the keyword EPDTIP. By the way, this excellent idea came from ETHS students at a Youth Council meeting with the Mayor.
In addition, residents can form neighborhood or block watch groups. The department’s Problem Solving Team works closely with these groups to provide up-to-date information on local crime and offer crime-fighting tips. These are all effective ways to deter crime and violent activity.
Another important way to help is to volunteer to be a mentor. Young people need mature guidance. Mentors help young people make better life decisions and give them strong role models for responsible behavior. Mentoring programs are available at Family Focus, Fellowship of African American Men, the McGaw YMCA, Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.), Big Brothers, Big Sisters and at many churches and synagogues. Evanston Police officers have been involved in a mentoring program for several years at ETHS. Mentoring makes a notable difference in a young person’s life. I encourage you to take the time to get involved by becoming a mentor. It will be a rewarding experience to you and a teen’s life for years to come.
Thank you for your interest in our work. If you have any thoughts or questions about Evanston law enforcement, please send them to Office of the Chief of Police. While we strive to respond to every email, please also consider utilizing the Evanston 311 system to ask questions and request non- emergency city services. We look forward to your comments and suggestions to serve you better now and in the future.
Richard Eddington, Chief of Police, Evanston, IL