A community conversation with the EPD

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Yesterday, Evanston Cradle to Career's Advocates for Action team, coordinated by Kimberly Holmes-Ross, held another of their "Saturday Morning Community Coffees," which are co-hosted by Radio La Difference every Saturday at 10 a.m. on EC2C's Facebook page.

The coffee-and-conversation series began in early June, with a tentative schedule through August, addressing topics such as normalizing mental heath issues in the Black community, Black fathers, racial equity, bringing a school to the 5th ward, and D65 and D202's plans for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Yesterday, the group tackled the hot topic of policing in Evanston, with guests EPD Chief Demitrous Cook and members of EPD's Problem Solving Team, Officers Tosha Wilson, Adam Howard, and Sgt. Scott Sophier.

Advocates and EPD discussed community policing, over-policing, defunding the police, and how the EPD addresses mental health within the department.

Here's a transcript of the conversation (slightly edited for length and clarity).

Marquise Weatherspoon

We're dealing with unprecedented times and everyone's mental state is a little unstable. How do you deal with the mental unrest of your fellow officers? What's the process for mental evaluation?

How do you guys do that?

Chief Demitrous Cook

Since Covid, we adjusted our work schedule to allow officers to have relief time or time off so they can destress, have time with their families, and not be so worried about things that are going on in the department, which are unprecedented.

In addition, Evanston is the only town around that has provided police officers the amount of relief time off that we do. All we ask is that they be on call. So we switched to a 12-hour shift, they're off seven days in a row once a month, and that provides them relief. There are other avenues for more serious stress issues. We have peer services within the department where officers can go to other officers to help them destress or problem solve some of their personal issues. The city also has a cops program that we can send people to for evaluations.

When we see a situation where an officer has a number of complaints, or some worrying behaviors, I have the authority to send him to get evaluated. We keep a close eye and make sure to utilize this service.

Kimberly Holmes-Ross

Is there a self-screen, because if an officer is having a bad day, that could be a bad day on the streets. Is there something on a daily basis so officers can check in with themselves or someone else?

Chief Cook

It's every officer's duty, not only the supervisors, to intercede in what could be perceived as negative behavior or behavior that could be detrimental to the progress of the police department. It's my job to look at officers, and their job to look at me. That's what keeps us in check. We do do that a lot. Police officers have the same problems as everyone else in the world, and we want to monitor that. We have domestic issues, financial issues, you name it; if it's in the world, we have it, and we try to be aware of each others' situations so we can provide the proper health care and assistance.

Bettye Cohns

There's a perception in our community that people of color, especially Black people, are targeted more often for doing the same things as other groups of people. Officer Wilson, I understand that you grew up in the 5th ward. Is it your perception as well that people in 5th ward are targeted more often than people on the north side of Evanston, on the south side of Evanston, and if so, why do you think that is?

Officer Tosha Wilson

I was raised in the 2nd ward but spent a lot of time in the 5th ward. I do not think we over-police on purpose, but I do believe there are underlying issues when it comes to power, economics, education, things that are stacked against us that cause police to respond to certain situations.

So do I think it's more than the south end? No. More than near Haven? Absolutely. Because I think that how we live, the money we have, when people are powerless the system is set up for us to respond to those circumstances.

So do we have more shootings in the 5th ward compared to Central Street? Absolutely. I believe that there are several levels of why we over-police in certain communities, and that's why I believe we have to hit so many things on so many different angles to make that stop.

We aren't calling ourselves to that community. My family members call the police, people you know call the police. I think if we can somehow fight the system as far as giving people more access, more power, then we can fix this to where police officers aren't needed in certain communities.

Bettye Cohns

So we need to look at our systems and make sure our systems are more equitable and that people have more opportunities in underserved communities to decrease the amount of policing that's required there.