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Northwestern researchers partner with city of Evanston to review police department’s use of force policy

overhead view of Evanston, Illinois
Northwestern Neighborhood and Network and IPR led a pro-bono study for the Evanston Police Dept. to fulfill the City's Commit to Action Pledge.

Over the summer, a team of Northwestern University researchers analyzed use of force policy and data for the City of Evanston’s Police Department. The recommendations will presented at Evanston’s Human Services Committee meeting Oct. 5.

The pro-bono study was led by Andrew Papachristos, a professor of sociology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and Soledad McGrath, Research Professor at the University’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR) and executive director of the Northwestern Neighborhood and Network Initiative (N3). Papachristos is also a faculty fellow in IPR and N3’s faculty director.

Prompted by protests over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other local and national events, Mayor Stephen Hagerty announced in June that Evanston would participate in the Obama Foundation’s Commit to Action Pledge, which requires communities to review police department use of force policies within 90 days to provide greater accountability and transparency by and between police departments and the communities they serve.

In mid-August, the Evanston Police Department (EPD) asked N3 to review its current Use of Force Policy and offer recommendations to strengthen the policy, which in turn, may lead to additional reforms aimed at greater equity, transparency and accountability.

N3’s report noted several areas of strength in the current policy, including the EPD’s bans on chokeholds, warning shots and shooting at and from moving vehicles. It also cited provisions regarding an officer’s duty to intervene and a general statement on the use of de-escalation techniques.

Recommended actions outlined in the report fell under three best-practice principles including:

  • Sanctity of life, which reflects a departmental duty to preserve equally the lives of officers and civilians.
  • Proportionality, where officers only use the level of force necessary, and which emphasizes that policies must promote and prioritize de-escalation.
  • Accountability and oversight, so that all parties understand what happens if the use of force policy is not followed, outlining processes to ensure transparency in incidents involving use of force.

The full N3 report is posted on the City of Evanston's website.

Quoted in a Chicago Tribune article on the City Council meeting at which Evanston Police Chief Demetrious Cook summarized the department’s policy review, Cook expressed a commitment to departmental transparency.

“This change is long overdue, and the sanctity of life is the most important thing,” Cook said.

“The recent incidents of police violence against Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Carlos Ingram-Lopez, Jacob Blake and Daniel Prude, among others, have forced a public reckoning on the role of law enforcement in providing public safety. EPD and the City of Evanston acknowledge this profound moment,” McGrath said. “Our team welcomed the opportunity to help improve trust in, and transparency and accountability of EPD.” 

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