Whether Evanston residents like it or not, a police outpost has been built in Evanston Plaza’s Dominick’s grocery store, 1910 Dempster St., and will soon be staffed by city police officers.
Located on the northeast side of the store, the outpost was built in response to reportedly high rates of juvenile liquor theft and theft-related violence in and around Dominick’s. Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington has said that his goal in approving the outpost’s construction was to create a sufficient deterrent to prevent local youth from making poor decisions that might lead to a criminal record.
. Some neighbors and have complained that the outpost would make the area seem dangerous and unattractive to potential home buyers and businesses, and some have decried using taxpayer money to staff an outpost located in a private business. Yet others welcome the added security, hoping it might bring increased stability to the plaza.
But at the second forum held in as many weeks to discuss the new outpost, the conversation turned to the process that lead to the outpost’s approval, and some residents complained that the matter was decided without public discussion or consent.
“This [meeting] should have happened a month ago,” said 2nd Ward resident and local business owner Dickelle Fonda. “The permit was requested on the 22 of June, it was approved on the 20 of July. The only public meetings we have had are tonight and last Wednesday…We have not had an opportunity to speak about this, no matter how people feel about it.”
Eddington said that the decision to build the outpost was made because he felt that dialogue had broken down between Dominick’s and the neighborhood, and that waiting for a different plan or agreement might take too long.
“One of the reasons that the decision was made by me at the time it was made, I was under the impression that there was no longer relevant dialogue between the community and the corporation,” Eddington said, addressing meeting attendees. “Now whether that’s right or whether that’s wrong, I’m not here to say. What I am here to say is that once that dialogue terminated, I felt I was in a position to have to make a decision that would have a relevant impact on our young people right away.”
Later on, Eddington responded to resident’s concerns that the decision process lacked transparency.
“I am sensitive to what they’re saying,” Eddington said. “But Evanston is very process oriented. We’re not really warmed up until the fourth or fifth meeting. Corporate America says ‘hey, we’ve got 45 minutes, let’s make a decision.’ And we’re taken aback at the speed at which decisions come. Dominick’s is taken aback, saying, ‘you want us to have executives out here how long to talk about what?’ It became clear to me that we were talking across purposes. That it wasn’t going to improve. I would like to have a solution in place when the children come back to school that would at least help.”
Evanston resident Jevoid Simmons said that the discussion should not have depended upon Dominick’s representative’s willingness to participate, and should have focused on the opinion of Evanston residents.
“The dialogue wasn’t finished because it wasn’t finished here,” Simmons said. “Really, I feel that this entire process is lacking in transparency. I think the corporation felt that the dialogue was finished and that it was time to move forward. For me, the dialogue was never with them. The dialogue is with [the city].”
Dominick’s reportedly initially approached the city about creating a police outpost inside the store after one or more of its security personnel were injured in alcohol theft related incidents. Dominick’s shouldered all costs for the outpost’s construction.
Simmons also said that a police outpost would not adequately address the plaza’s problems and that other approaches should have been explored first.
Kai Joy, an Evanston resident and security consultant who spoke during a citizen comment portion of Thursday’s meeting, said that his evaluation of Evanston Plaza concluded that the shopping center needed some additional form of crime deterrent and that the new outpost might suffice, though he added that other methods of increasing security presence might work, as well.
Eddington has said several times that he is not married to the idea of police outpost, calling it an “interim solution.” He said that police would regularly analyze the area’s crime statistics to determine the outpost’s impact, and that the department could move in a different direction should it prove ineffective.
Eddington has previously stated that the outpost will not always have a police presence, but that it will be manned “frequently and periodically” throughout the day.
According to police statistics provided by Eddington at Thursday’s meeting, in 2010 there were 183 reported incidents at the Evanston Plaza Dominick’s, including 88 for theft, 2 for assault, 2 for battery, 22 for disturbances and 2 for disorderly conduct. Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-18th) said Dominick’s denied her request for the corporation’s crime statistics on the same store.
No Dominick's representatives were present at Thursday's meeting.
The Evanston Police Department also has an outpost at 633 Howard St., though it is located in its own storefront.