In response to recent against security staff and , and reportedly increased levels of alcohol theft by juveniles, Dominick's is in talks with the City of Evanston over implementing a police outpost within its Evanston Plaza grocery store, 1910 Dempster St.
Members of the Evanston West Village Business Association met with City and Evanston Police Department representatives Wednesday morning at the Heartwood center to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed outpost.
According to Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington, the outpost would serve mainly as a “preventative deployment security strategy” and deterrent to potential incidents of violence and theft.
“This is a reaction from a community member, Dominick’s, to deal with the issues and problems they have,” Eddington said. “The sun comes up in the east, there’s going to be [shoplifting]. That’s just the way it is. But there are several things that pushed Dominick’s and one of them was a significant number of injuries to their security people when they attempted to apprehend shoplifters.”
Chiefly debated at the meeting was whether the level of crime and violence near the store warranted an outpost.
Though no Dominick’s representatives were present at Wednesday’s gathering (much to the chagrin of some attendees), at a March 7, 2011 City of Evanston human services committee meeting focusing on the prevalence of youth crime throughout Evanston, store manager Bob Devereux said that the Dempster Dominick’s was “number one for injuries that occur to our security officers throughout the [80 stores in the] Dominick’s chain.” Devereux presented no documentation to support his claim, but there have been several reported incidents of store employees being robbed or in or near Evanston Plaza. Dominick’s representatives were unable to be reached for further comment.
Dickelle Fonda, a local social worker and Evanston West Village Business Association member, called a taxpayer-funded police outpost within a private business a “dangerous precedent,” saying that other preventative measures should be explored first, including reconfiguring the Dominick’s floor plan to move the liquor section to a better-lit and more-visible area within the store, providing better training for security staff and even altogether ceasing to sell alcohol at that location. Fonda said that she and other neighbors had opposed the sale of alcohol at Dominick’s since the store opened, even back then citing its proximity to Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave., as a potential problem.
According to Devereux, the independently contracted security company used at the Dempster store separately requested that security be doubled at the location to help reduce the number of violent episodes.
But Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward) said that based on the incidents that he has heard about and witnessed, private security staff may not be enough and a police outpost may be an appropriate option.
“I’ve seen where someone who was stealing alcohol was tazed,” Braithwate said. “I’ve seen where someone who was taking alcohol, it took four or five police officers to get him under control. I’ve heard where the security guard staff has been cut with a glass bottle. ... Heaven forbid that should happen to a kid or a shopper. And I don’t think I’m willing to take that chance to wait for that to happen.”
Local business owners fear that a frequent, visible police presence in the Evanston Plaza could send a message to potential customers that the Dempster-Dodge area is unsafe for families and small children.
“It creates a perception of fear,” said Nancy Floy, owner and executive director of the Heartwood center, 1818 Dempster St. “That this is not a safe neighborhood to come into. And that is what we are working so hard to do. To change the perception here. To say, ‘this is the West Village. This is a hip cool community. Come bring your kids down.’”
However, other local businesses representatives felt that a conspicuous police presence could do the exact opposite by making the neighborhood appear safer and better monitored.
“It’s more important to provide safety in the area and to give her tenants piece of mind,” said Denise Brady, speaking on behalf of Smart Realty agent Marion Bowen. “That’s more important than the perception to her. ... Even if you have a police outpost, it’s not like there’s going to be a huge neon sign.”
Eddington said that even if an outpost is implemented in the Dominick’s, Evanston Police would not be committing to a constant presence. Instead, officers would stop by when available, focusing on times when trends have shown the store is at a higher risk for shoplifting or violence.
While there is no timeline for future discussions on the proposed outpost, local business owners suggested that sometime in the near future they would meet with Dominick’s representatives.
The Evanston Police Department currently has two outpost locations: one at 633 Howard St. and one at Evanston Township High School.
The Evanston West Village Business Association is with official borders of Wesley Avenue (east) to Hartrey Avenue (west) and Greenwood Street (north) to Lee Street (south). The group to promote the area as a “destination area” for local families.