-- by Betsy Wilson In the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, Evanston has seen an outpouring of community concern about police violence against Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, including a 5,000 person protest on May 31, organized by Evanston Fight for Black Lives.
Ninth ward Alderman Cicely L. Fleming was the first elected official to publicly commit to defunding the Evanston Police Department. She has since been joined by Council Members Peter Braithwaite (2), Melissa Wynn (3), Don Wilson (4), Robin Rue-Simmons (5), and Eleanor Revelle (7) in supporting moving funds from the Evanston Police budget to other service providers.
In August, Evanston Fight for Black Lives released a Plan of Action to Defund the Evanston Police Department, which called for a 75% reduction in the Evanston Police Department’s 56-million-dollar budget and the formation of a subcommittee of Council Members and citizens.
Under Council Member Revelle’s leadership, the Human Services Committee met three times during August to discuss these issues. Committee Chair Revelle, and Alderwomen Fleming and Fiske attended all three meetings. Alderman Braithwaite attended two meetings and Alderwoman Rue-Simmons attended one.
The committee examined data about 911 calls and consulted with members of the Police Department and with social service organizations that respond to community members in crisis, such as Connections for the Homeless, the YWCA and the Moran Center.
During the final meeting, the Human Services Committee examined alternative emergency response systems in Olympia, Washington and Denver, Colorado. The Committee proposed a subcommittee be formed to continue the examination and evaluation of community-safety measures, including forming a pilot program for an emergency response program that would be staffed by social-service, medical, or mental-health care experts rather than the police.
Erika Storlie, the Interim City Manager, anticipated seed funding of $200,000 but did not discuss any reduction in the police budget. Alderwoman Fleming will chair the subcommittee and pointed out that the Olympia program’s budget is more than twice that amount, commenting that there will be time to review other budgets in the future.
The Human Services Committee has not yet examined ways to shift current police responsibilities, such as drug enforcement, animal control, curfew enforcement, or drafting accident reports for insurance claims, to non-police entities.
[photo: Ald. Revelle, 7; Ald. Fleming, 9]