I recently sat down with Demitrous Cook, Evanston's new police chief, in his spacious office at the Evanston Police Department. I'd planned to ask Chief Cook mostly about himself and his life ... But he was generous with his time--and his opinions--so we talked about a lot more too.
Chief Cook was sworn in at the Lorraine Morton Civic Center on January 2, following the retirement, after nine years, of Chief Richard Eddington.
Cook began his career in 1981 as a police supervisor with the Northwestern University Police Department, joined EPD in 1984 as a patrol officer, rose up the ranks to Deputy Chief before he left in 2010 to assume the position of police chief at the south-suburban Glenwood police department.
DE: I’ll ask you a little bit about policing. But I want to ask you about things I think people might want to know about you. I want to know why so many people were so excited about your return to Evanston. Everyone seems to know you.
DC: Well, I was here for 27 years. They know me. Most of the people. Not only did I have Beat 77, which is a Black neighborhood ... well was a black neighborhood.
DE: Is that the 5th Ward?
DC: Yeah, that’s one of them neighborhoods that’s under gentrification. But I also had the downtown beat and the Central Street Beat.
DE: When I posted on my Facebook page that you were the new chief, one after the other person was so excited. And most of those people were African American. And I'm curious why that is.
DC: Well, I’m going to tell you what it was. I wasn’t arresting them for bullshit. And I was one of the people, you know, helping people.
DC: Running to baby showers, you know, going to family funerals, and things like that. And some of them were unsavory characters. So in the police department, a lot of cops took that like, 'Oh, what are you doing talking to him?' 'Well, what are you doing with her?' You know, if it was a girl, 'Oh, he must be having a relationship with her.' Or if it was some guy that’s been to prison or something like that, 'Oh, he must be telling that drug dealer something.' You know, that kind of message. Which is totally false.
I’ve always been the kind of person that believed in being righteous, you know. I make mistakes, but I’m not a crook. Never have been.
DE: Okay, so where did you grow up?
DC: Altgeld Gardens Public Housing Projects, south side of Chicago. 130th Street.
DE: Tell me a bit about your childhood.
DC: Well, I had a mom and a dad, you know. We didn’t look at it as public housing. It was just a neighborhood, you know. It’s the furthest south you can go in Chicago. So, it wasn’t like what people would think a public housing project was like.
DE: Yeah, it’s low.
DC: It’s low-rise little townhouses. My dad worked at Scotland Food Company. My mom was a housekeeper for Gloria Jackson, Dr. Gloria Jackson. She ran the clinic in Altgeld Gardens. And she was the president of Jackson Park Hospital. And she lived in Hyde Park. So, my mom would go to her house and, you know, work with her kids and clean her house and all of that.
So, I went to school, and when I was 15, my dad died. He just fell dead, had a heart attack. And he was 39 years of age.
DE: And do you have siblings?
DC: Yes, I got two brothers and a sister. They’re all younger. We all stair-stepped. I’m the oldest. I’m 60, my brother is 59, another brother is 58.
DE: So, you were the oldest child when your dad died and you were 15.
DC: Yes. So, what happened, Dr. Larry Hawkins, he used to be the athletic basketball coach at Carver High School. Dr. Hawkins left Carver High School and went to the University of Chicago and started this program called the Upward Bound Program.
So, I would ride over there to the University of Chicago and you know they had counselors, like my counselor was Judge [Michael] Stuttley. He just retired. He was head of the Cook County Juvenile Court Division. And James Townsend who owns several State Farms, he’s retired. He lives out in Oak Park. These guys were my counselors in the Upward Bound Program. It was a mix of athletics, classroom where you were lacking, you know in your education, like math. So, Mr. Townsend taught us math and Judge Stuttley taught us reading and stuff like that.
So, I was over there my whole high school career. We rode the bus over there.
And it became a paid program. But Dr. Hawkins, he wouldn’t give us our check because he knew what we was going to do. We was going to go out and spend it. So, he would hold our checks, all of them, to the end of the summer and give them to our mom. And my mom managed me with spending. And his philosophy was, 'I’m going to teach you how to save money.'