The Evanston Police Department outpost currently being constructed within the Evanston Plaza Dominick’s grocery store was the topic of a heated debate at the Dewey-Darrow and Florence-Crain Neighbors night at the Perla Café, 1813 Dempster St.
Proposed in response to a rash of juvenile liquor thefts and in and around the store, , which contend that other preventative methods have not been adequately examined, that taxpayers should not have to fund the staffing of a security center in a private business, and that the outpost would foster a perception that the neighborhood is unsafe, scaring potential home-buyers and businesses away.
(Earlier: Residents first discuss the outpost.)
The outpost is being built on the store’s east end (the liquor department sits on the stores west end), and will be manned “frequently and periodically” by police officers throughout the day, though it is unclear what methodology they will use in monitoring the store. Dominick’s is paying for the outpost construction.
Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington spoke to the near 40 neighbors in attendance at the meeting, saying that the outpost’s purpose was to deter juveniles from getting a criminal record, as much as it was to improve neighborhood safety.
“I’m concerned about doing something prior to school coming back into session,” Eddington said. “While I’m waiting for all us adults to get along, I really need to do something for the kids… [To see] if I can avoid arresting young people, if I can avoid giving them a criminal record.”
He also openly addressed the perceived bad blood between Dominick’s and some of its neighbors.
“We’ve come to a point between Dominick’s and the neighborhood, I know there’s going to be no more progress,” Eddington said. “It’s just one of those things that got off on a bad foot. It got off on a bad foot 12 years ago.”
The tension stems from when the store originally sought out a liquor license soon after opening. Some neighbors argued that adding a liquor department in a store so close to Evanston Township High School would lead to juveniles stealing alcohol.
Meeting attendee Karen Bond related how the store initially promised to sell liquor from an enclosed area with a store employee monitoring the entrance at all times. However, she said the store soon became lax once they obtained their liquor license, leaving the liquor department entrance unsupervised, and eventually reconfigured the liquor section into a normal store aisle layout.
Bond said that before Dominick’s spent money to build a police outpost, they should have reconfigured the liquor section once more, returning to its previous layout, which she claimed allowed for far less theft.
“It came to a head when they took the walls down [around the liquor department],” Bond said. “[The police outpost] is kind of like when you take a pill to get rid of the side effects of another pill that you just took. Why don’t we go back and get rid of the original bad pill?”
Still, not everyone at the meeting had a negative opinion about the outpost.
Lydia Murman said that she felt the increased police presence could benefit the entire neighborhood.
“If you’re talking about economic development in a neighborhood that doesn’t have such a great reputation, it might not be such a bad idea to have an extra cop when you need one,” Murman said. “Personally, I love seeing the policemen up and down Dodge. I feel safer that way.”
But Dickelle Fonda said the outpost would be more like a scar on the neighborhood, giving it the unfortunate distinction of having the only Dominick’s requiring a police outpost to maintain safety.
Several neighbors in attendance spoke about their lack of faith in the Evanston Police Department. One woman said she had witnessed officers idly chatting in cars for a substantial period when they could have been patrolling. A man said he was disappointed that he no longer knew the police officers on his neighborhood beat. And another woman said that police failed to show up after she called them twice a few weeks earlier to complain about the noise coming from a house, the same home which later that night would be the scene of a physical fight ending in a man’s death.
Eddington said that though Dominick’s will continue to build the outpost, once completed the police department will closely monitor theft and violence statistics in the store and surrounding area to see whether the strategy works. In the meanwhile, he said he was open to alternative approaches.
“As time goes by, if we discover something better, more effective, more rational, I’m in,” Eddington said. “I’m not married to [the police outpost], but I am married to doing something to reduce the problem. If we come up collectively with a better something, I’m in.”
Regardless of what emerges, Fonda said she is upset with the process that lead to the creation of the outpost, saying that not enough city officials or neighbors knew about its implementation.
“This wasn’t a council decision,” Fonda said. “This was an administrative decision. When we spoke at City Council Monday night, aside from our alderman, basically the council didn’t know about this. We all have a right to speak about this…It requires a larger forum than what we’ve got here.”
No Dominick's representatives were present at Thursday's meeting.
The police outpost will be discussed further at next week’s 2nd Ward meeting.
The Evanston Police Department also has an outpost at 633 Howard St., though it is located in its own storefront.