Police Chief Talks Gangs, Crime Around ETHS

Evanston Chief of Police Richard Eddington answers columnist Christine Wolf's questions about crime around Evanston Township High School, banning guns in Evanston and local gangs.

Hours after I posted a column about the shocking amount of recent crime in Evanston, I received an email from Evanston’s City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. He'd copied Evanston's Police Chief Richard Eddington and requested the Chief speak to me about the police presence around the high school.

Eddington called that afternoon. Below, I’ve summarized the first part of our discussion.

Click here to read the second part of my conversation with the chief.

Has there ever been discussion about metal detectors at the high school?

“That’s something for the high school and the school board to decide,” Eddington said. “Not meaning to sound disengaged, I’ll say there’s been no history of armed violence inside the school,” he added.

“We’re also talking about community perceptions. Consider [the message it sends when a high school uses metal detectors]. Plus, they aren’t a ‘magic charm’ to prevent bad things from happening, and they also require staffing.”

Are the mayor's hands tied when it comes to banning guns in Evanston?

“This is a huge issue, both nationally and politically. To tell you the truth, it’s a political hot potato,” Eddington said. He cited two recent Supreme Court decisions, including McDonald vs. Chicago. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the second amendment right to “keep and bear arms” applies to local gun control laws, including the city of Chicago, which had attempted to ban possession of handguns.

“In some ways, the City of Evanston operates like a business,” Eddington said. “The mayor, the city manager, and the aldermen have to listen to lawyers, and their lawyers tell them that, in regard to banning guns, you don’t have the money and you’ll lose.

Do you think the gun buyback program will be a success, given concerns that the money won’t be enough to deter criminals?

“People will show up who are smart enough to dispose of weapons in a responsible way,” he said, explaining that some residents will recognize the cost and effort required to maintain and properly store firearms. “We have to do it and see what happens, then revise and address the program as time goes by.”

Why isn't there a greater police presence around the area surrounding the high school? Is it money?

 “I think there’s a substantial presence there,” Eddington said, pointing to what he describes as the “layers” of police coverage in beats 74 and 77, north and south of ETHS. They are the only areas of the city with two foot patrol officers, and several members of the department’s Problem Solving Team, police officers who make contacts with local residents and business owners and take a preventive approach to policing. Eddington also said there are multiple police officers at ETHS at dismissal time.

“These homicides are attention-getting, but the police department and the city have safeguards established,” he said. “It’s not like we’re totally unprepared.”

What are law enforcement professionals doing about gangs in Evanston?

This was the only part of our discussion where I sensed hesitation from Eddington.

“I’ve focused resources on how we’re doing things and how to do them better,” he said. But sometimes, Eddington said, problems are beyond the scope of the city’s resources. The FBI, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have all worked with Evanston.

 “We have such technical and legal hurdles, so the workaround is to make federal friends,” he said.

Eddington notes an “out of control” number of cell phone thefts at ETHS last fall, when “a student who needed lunch money could grab someone’s phone, walk across the street, sell it, and head back into the school.” Evanston Police were assisted by agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Secret Service. Because LINK cards were also involved, the case is still being followed up, but right now, he says, “the situation is back under control.”

Eddington also points to an 18-month federal investigation of the Belizean Blood street gang. Authorities say 75 gang members from California, Utah and metropolitan Chicago were supplying guns to the west side of Evanston. That investigation that is still ongoing. “We’re trying to target the upper tier of gun and drug purveyors, and find partners who’ll help us do that,” he said. 

John C Thomson December 05, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Its stated that there are community perceptions about metal detectors in the highschool so what about community perceptions when you have a gun buy back offer. Then the bombshell that I don't think the community was aware of is this Belizean Blood street gang targeting the west side of Evanston to sell guns, you think a gun buy back is going to offset that. A few years back for a couple of years in a row they would have these large drug busts that were an accumulative number of drugs being sold at and around Church and Dodge. So they would observe these drugs being sold for a significant period of time and then bust a bunch of folks, and then let them sell drugs at Church and Dodge for another year and then bust them again. You've still got drugs being sold across the street from the high school and you just watch now and bust them later.
Lisa G. December 06, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Honestly, Christine, the questions are naive. Neither of the shootings took place in the school or on a school day. They took place at night, in one instance after a party. In both cases, the victims seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, it is a tragedy, but adding metal detectors at ETHS will do nothing, any more than moving the office at Oakton would prevent another Aquan Lewis. The availability of guns is a problem but people who are likely to use a gun to solve a problem are unlikely to turn them in for any reason, let alone $100. This is a social and psychological problem, not a law enforcement one.
Skip December 06, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Does the Supreme Court's decision prevent requiring pemits and training before one can legally possess a firearm?
r neville December 06, 2012 at 09:08 PM
In the often perceived risky business of crime. One thing any criminal in Evanston can be certain of is: the intended victim as well as anybody else at hand, will be unarmed and therefore unable to stop them. I think it's time to make violent crime riskier for the criminal than the would-be victims, or at least introduce a modicum of chance for both.
Lisa S. December 06, 2012 at 10:39 PM
So r neville - are you seriously suggesting I supply my 15 year old with a gun in case he is accosted? That is a frightening recommendation. I'm also wondering how you believe this would work - would my son need to have his hand on his gun as he walks home from school? Then when someone "suspicious" approaches he's supposed to whip it out? I'm seriously wondering how you think this would play out to reduce crime.
Lisa S. December 06, 2012 at 10:44 PM
I have a student at ETHS and I worry about him walking home from school. I do notice a heavy police presence but somehow kids are still getting held up for phones, etc., as early as 5 p.m. I have spoken with the police about this and they do seem concerned. I wonder what else can be done.
annie December 08, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Heres the thing about police presence at the high school: just because you don't "see" them doesn't mean they are not there.
non December 10, 2012 at 03:08 AM
story already out of date - a third young Evanston man gone now.
Dan Cox October 07, 2013 at 02:52 PM
FBI Report, states that over 150,000 Criminal Gang Members are in Chicago and that Chicago is the #1 Murder Capitol of the entire Nation. The issue that Evanston is facing is way beyond anything that the Cheif of Police touched on. The overwhelming number of Criminal Gang Members in Chicago and Cook County is more than any law enforcement agency can handle... simply put, where would you even loc-up 1% of them? There is no room in Cook County Jail or Federal Facilities to incarcirate 15,000 people. The Criminals have Won in Cook County.


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