By Bob Seidenberg
With the department at its lowest headcount in recent history, city officials are consider lowering the service time police officers have to log with another department before eligible to join the Evanston force.
Members of the City Council’s Administration & Public Works (A&PW) Committee on March 28 recommended in favor of moving Interim Police Chief Richard Eddington’s proposal – which calls for a change in city’s Public Safety Commission Rules –to the City Council for consideration.
The Evanston department is facing its greatest staff drain in years, with 24 officers leaving the department to join other law enforcement jurisdictions, Eddington told members of the Council’s Human Services Committee at their March 7 meeting.
Police staffing figures stood at 135 sworn officers and 43 civilian employees for a headcount of 178 as of October 27 of last year.
The annual vacancy count has been more than double the highest annual vacancy count in the past six years, officials said.
The city is making an aggressive push to fill the gap, recruiting officers from other departments who have already been through basic training and bring experience.
Evanston is in strong competition with other cities, including Chicago, that are also facing an officer drain and making strong recruiting efforts of their own.
Eddington’s proposal essentially would shorten the amount of time for officers with another department to be considered for employment in Evanston.
Instead of a two-year timeframe, officials narrowed down the time to officers’ probationary period with their current employer or previous employer. That usually runs between a year and 18 months, Eddington said.
As of late, he said, “We have found there were several Academy candidates of our current [list of] officers who are interested [in joining the department] but had less than two years of service, and we’re eager to solicit their applications,” said Eddington.
He also noted that the total number of officers that had left the force had grown since his report to the Human Services Committee, with two announcing they were leaving and another retiring this past week.
In discussion, Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, recounted a discussion he had with the Chief earlier that day and expressed his concern that “we’re not hiring leftovers from other municipalities,” to fill positions.
Eddington – who in 2018 retired as Police Chief after 11 years and was rehired earlier this year to serve while the city searches for a new chief – assured Committee members that candidates will be fully vetted and will undergo an interview by members of the Department’s command staff. There will also be background checks that include a waiver that will allow the City to see their personnel file with their current employer. Candidates will be subject to psychological and polygraph exams and drug screening – essentially “all the things we would do for a candidate that is not in [law enforcement] service,” he said.
“The advantage to the in-service person is they have a shorter FTO (Field Training Officer) period and we don’t have to send them to basic training,” he said.
That saves the city a considerable amount of money in salaries. Also, Chief Eddington noted, “We’re several months away from establishing a regular police test [for applicants vying to come on to the force.] And this is the only way we’re going to be able to obtain any manpower for the warmer summer months.”
By Bob Seidenberg