EVANSTON, IL — Mayor Steve Hagerty hosted the second in a series of weekly discussion on policing Monday with a focus on the budget of the Evanston Police Department.
Evanston devotes more than 35 percent of its general fund and nearly 13 percent of its total spending to its annual $41.1 million police budget. About 94 percent of that money goes to salaries, pensions and other benefits for the department's 202 employees.
"When we talk about defunding the police," Hagerty said, "you have to be talking about reducing the number of police officers that are there if you want to bring down the budget of the police."
Earlier this month, Hagerty announced the series of livestreamed discussions in response to renewed calls for police reform in the wake of the in-custody homicide of George Floyd and shooting deaths of other unarmed Black people across the country. The first discussion, held last week, focused on police training.
In each livestreamed discussion so far, the mayor presented a series of screened questions to police representatives and outside guests, while also sharing his own queries and experiences.
"I can tell you, in the three years that I've been the mayor, we have never had anyone come to City Council and say, 'You need to start spending less money on police,'" Hagerty said. "That hasn't happened."
Police Chief Demitrous Cook, who took over at the helm of the department 18 months ago, said he has worked to reorganize the department and maximize efficiencies whenever possible.
Cook said the department was already short-staffed, citing the 19 positions accounted for in the 2020 budget that remain vacant. The unfilled jobs include two commanders — frozen because the cost did not justify the workload, Cook said — 13 vacant police officer positions, two service desk officers, an administrative lead and an assistant communications coordinator.
"Right now we're not fully staffed. But staffing is a matter of what you would expect with service delivery, having a proper amount of staffing to deliver the services that the city expects," Cook said. "When you look at the services that we serve, we're not fully staffed."
New four-year contracts with the two unions representing employees of the police department took effect last year. They included reduced pay increases in exchange for an increase in comp time worth a similar amount.
Andrew Papachristos, a sociology professor at Northwestern University, said any discussion of reducing police budgets boils down to what the community wants police to do and whether they want fewer officers per resident.
"Defunding police, or thinking about this, really comes down to what Evanstonians want to have as the ratio of officers, that are patrolling, to residents," Parachristos said. "How many officers we have per capita is what will drive that 93 percent, with a big asterisk around commitments made to retirements, pensions, unions, so on."
Papachristos said municipalities across the country are embarking on similar reviews of police spending amid forecasted budget shortfalls from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evanston's ratio of police personnel to population – about 269 department employees to 100,000 residents — compares to that of San Francisco, Miami or Little Rock, Arkansas, according to an analysis by the Vera Institute of Justice cited by Papachristos.
Chicago's police to resident ratio is 40 percent lower — just 183 employees per 100,000 Chicagoans. But the city's nearly $2 billion police budget means per capita police spending in Chicago is $611 per person compared to about $550 per Evanstonian.
But what about smaller Illinois communities? Using 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data, Governing magazine calculated the per capita rates of police personnel to residents for all police departments serving jurisdictions with at least 25,000.
For areas with populations between 50,000 and 100,000, like Evanston, the analysis found the median number of police employees was 197 per 100,000 residents. Apart from Chicago, Evanston had the fourth highest ratio of police to residents in the state, trailing only Addison, Elk Grove Village and Carbondale.
Among other north and northwest suburbs included in the dataset, Glenview's ratio was about half that of Evanston's. Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Park Ridge had about a third as many per capita police employees. Niles, Wheeling and Vernon Hills had between 70 to 80 percent of Evanston's cop-to-civilian rate.
Hagerty said he would schedule a second discussion on the police budget with more information about what kind of calls Evanston police are tasked with handling.
Interim City Manager Erika Storlie is due to present a draft version of next year's budget in September.