March 9, 2017

FAQ: Evanston Policing

There is a great quote on the steps of the Evanston Public Library that reads: “You may step where I step, but you can’t walk in my shoes unless you try.” I have been thinking of that quote recently as it relates to the Evanston Police Department, the publicly discussed incidents of our police department (e.g., Crosby, Reid) and the draft study released by UNC Professor Frank R. Baumgartner. I am not a police officer so I cannot truly understand what it is like to approach an unknown driver in a vehicle. I am not a person of color so I cannot know what it’s like to feel singled out more so than others.

What I have tried to do is listen. With both ears, and a closed mouth, I have tried to listen and learn from experiences far different from my own. I attended a meeting with OPAL a few months ago to improve my understanding of implicit bias and my own privileges. There, I Listened. I attended a rally in downtown Evanston after the Holy Quran was desecrated at our public library. I have sat with Hecky Powell as he took me through the rich history of his neighborhood, the more recent troubles with shootings, and the policing strategy that was adopted as a response. There again, I listened. And I’ve looked a friend in the eyes as he told me with unfettered truth, that he squeezes the steering wheel in fear every time a police officer pulls behind his vehicle.

As an emergency management consultant who has helped municipalities recover from natural and unnatural disasters, I have also listened to our emergency responders as they relayed the horrors of their job when tragedy strikes. I have seen the pride in the eyes of families as they sit and watch their loved ones receive a medal to celebrate their courage. And I have admittedly been thankful for the peace they keep in every community I have ever lived.

Listening to others has allowed me to learn more about my position in this world. I understand my professional and personal experiences with emergency responders gives me a bias towards our law enforcement. I grew up in a small town where we knew our police officers by first name.  They were family, friends, neighbors, high school basketball teammates, and first crushes. They were citizens of the town we loved. I think being aware of my own bias is what has allowed me to see this issue from other perspectives.

I also understand that as a white man, who lives in an affluent neighborhood, I rarely question my safety. I do not have to worry about sexual advances on the street, as many women do, police officers occupying my community, or my son being stopped while riding his bicycle. In my current station in life, I am the most protected human being on earth, and with that comes a tremendous responsibility to advocate for others.

Being raised by public middle school teachers offered me a window into the value of service to others. Before I applied to attend Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, I thought hard about which school would best prepare me to serve communities and different groups of people. The Athenian oath, our motto at Maxwell – to transmit this City not only not less, but greater, better, and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us – still guides my decisions to this day. In an effort to do so, I will continue to listen and learn as we discuss policing issues in Evanston. Like others in this community, I will attend the upcoming meetings, and better orient myself within this important discussion.

Like you, I want a police department in Evanston that keeps our residents safe, is respectful and courteous, does not infringe upon our residents’ constitutional rights, and does not discriminate against any of our residents. I must know that our Council is monitoring our police force against these objectives, especially when data indicates that we are not achieving our goal of treating people equitably.The draft UNC study released February 17, 2017, indicates that during 2014 Evanston’s police department searched black drivers at a rate of seven times greater than white drivers and 4.5 times greater than the 16-state average in the study.  Let me be clear. While the UNC study is not yet published or peer reviewed, at face value, it indicates systemic problems with policing in Evanston. One critical question we must answer is: how can we continue to provide a high level of criminal deterrence in an equitable and restorative manner? Alderman Mark Tendam, who chairs the City’s Human Services Committee, issued a statement and a list of questions about the UNC study that I wholeheartedly agree with.

Should I be elected Mayor, I will work collaboratively with the council members to answer this fundamental question. Along with evaluating structural police reform, I believe a piece of the answer involves ensuring that our city budget reflects our progressive values. We need to make sure that we’re not only investing in our police department, but that we’re equally investing in the future of those least proximate to power.

I’m pleased to see the current Council’s efforts in making sure we have a police department that is held accountable when procedures aren’t followed. I am pleased with our Police Department’s 22 step de-escalation plan announced by Police Chief Richard Eddington. I am pleased that the Council is allowing an independent community group to evaluate our Civilian Complaint & Review process. And I’m proud of the work that community members are doing to organize around this important issue. This is the true spirit of Evanston! And, it is within this spirit that I too will lead, should I be elected Mayor of this fine City.


Steve Hagerty