After two fatal shootings in less than three months, I had several questions about crime in Evanston. So I sat down with Police Chief Richard Eddington to ask him about the police presence around the high school, what police are doing to stop gang violence and whether guns could be banned in Evanston, among other questions.
Part one of my interview with the chief was published Tuesday; here is the second part of our conversation.
Do you think crime has increased in Evanston in the past several years? If so, why?
Overall Evanston’s crime rate is actually going downward, according to Eddington. He bases that statement on the Evanston Police Department’s most recent annual report, available online, and on the frequency of eight “index” crimes that local law enforcement agencies report to the FBI each year. Authorities measure the crime rate in a community based on the incidence of murder, criminal sexual assault, robbery, aggravated battery/assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.
While it’s too early to make a comparison between 2011 and 2012, the 2011/2010 numbers, according to the city’s website, back up Eddington’s statement that crime is decreasing in Evanston.
From 2010 to 2011, the murder rate was reduced by 40 % (5 in 2010 to 3 in 2011) and the number of aggravated battery & assaults went down by 23.8 % (126 in 2010 to 96 in 2011). Police responded to 129 calls of shots fired in 2011, compared to 180 calls of shots fired in 2010.
“We’re driven to minimize crimes by putting police resources in the best places,” Eddington said. “Crime is numerically forced down by active citizenry and police intervention.”
For example, he says, the Evanston police have worked closely with fast food delivery personnel, who have been the victims of several robberies lately. And when Daylight Savings Time ends, Eddington explains, police are more prominent in and around elevated train stations, since purse-snatchers take advantage of minimized light.
Do you believe there's anything police could have been doing to prevent the two recent homicides?
“When we talk about issues like this, we need to consider community expectations, values and context,” he said. “Justin’s case and Dajae’s case are both related to protracted feuds between two families, not random acts of violence. There’s a context there.”
“In terms of community expectations…the city of Evanston has an extremely open manner of community input and critique of police operations. Even if we could afford to place an officer on every block, would the community accept that? Would it necessarily improve the quality of life?”
As for values, Eddington said that’s where community members need to step in. Rather than threatening to move to another suburb, he believes they should stick it out and work to improve Evanston. “Having moved several times [myself], it’s traumatic and a lot of work,” he said. “The reality is, we’re better served making a commitment to channeling energies. No place is immune to this.” After a 38-year police career, Eddington adds, “This is not escapable. In my opinion, there’s no place to run.”
What would you say to people who feel all hope is lost in Evanston? To those who feel the only way to avoid the violence here is to leave?
“I’m sensitive to that,” Eddington said. “I also can’t become jaded by these crises. People who don’t do this for a living – whether it’s a friend or a parent or a neighbor or a peer – I completely understand [your frustration], and it’s part of the grieving process. Sometimes it needs to be said, to get it off our chests. I’d like to emphasize the significant number of resources we have, and to stress that the city is committed to changing this dynamic.”
Eddington pointed to the Mayor’s Safe Summer Initiative, as an example of successful government intervention.
“She changed how we deliver recreational services…by the force of her will, she used the moral bully pulpit, offering services in the evening when they’re not [typically] offered,” he said. “I also point to her revamping outreach: she took a political risk, but you need someone who’s been there and done that."
But what Eddington really wants to say to disheartened Evanstonians is this: “I want people to become involved. … You can’t sit on the sidelines. My coach always said, ‘Get your glove on and get in the game.’"
After answering all my questions, the chief has one of his own: “The question is, how do we make it better for everyone?”