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.