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Evanston makes history by swearing in first Black woman police chief


The city of Evanston made history on October 10 after it swore in its first permanent woman police chief.

In a packed room, Schenita Stewart was sworn in after an intense candidate search. Chief Stewart is also the first Black female police chief in the city’s 165-year history.

Chief Stewart, who previously served as deputy chief of police in northwest suburban East Dundee, replaces Richard Eddington, who served the Evanston Police Department for 12 years.

“She brings over 15 years of police leadership, she is an Evanston native, she is a graduate of ETHS and just frankly an outstanding person,” said Evanston City Manager Luke Stowe.

Evanston Mayor Daniel Bliss said, “These have been complicated years, complicated years in the law enforcement profession, complicated years in the Evanston Police Department. Chief Stewart is the complete package. We didn’t have to sacrifice either professionalism or skill or deep experience or knowledge of Evanston and deep roots here.”

Chief Stewart has a twin sister, Commander Schonella Stewart of the Oak Park Police Department, according to the Evanston Roundtable, an online news publication. The Roundtable reported that Chief Stewart recently attended her sister Schonella Stewart’s swearing-in ceremony at the Civic Center. They were born at St. Francis Hospital, grew up in Evanston and graduated from Evanston Township High School. According to the Roundtable, Schenita was the first to go into law enforcement; Schonella was a social worker first.

Schenita earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Illinois State University. She holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Chicago State University. According to the Roundtable, she’s been in law enforcement for 23 years, starting as a patrol officer in Lincolnwood in 1999 and rising to deputy chief in 2018. Stewart has served as deputy chief in East Dundee since 2021.

According to the U.S. Census, Evanston is 16.5 percent Black. Evanston’s 10-member City Council includes three Blacks who serve among nine aldermen in the city’s wards.

In January, Evanston gained national attention after the city followed up with its promise to grant slave reparations to its citizens. On January 13, Evanston’s Reparations Committee approved 122 applicants qualifying as “Ancestors” for the city’s Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program, which will provide grants of up to $25,000 to purchase a home, make home improvements or applicants can receive mortgage assistance.

Crimes against persons, which include assaults and batteries, have risen 27 percent, and property crimes are up 25.5 percent. Evanston’s police force is short-staffed, currently down two dozen officers.

After the swearing in ceremony, Stewart acknowledged that she has work to do.

“Dealing with staffing. Dealing with morale and dealing with the partnership with the community is what’s most important. Getting back to building that partnership and building that trust back with the community,” Stewart told ABC7 Chicago.

Chief Stewart rose above the city’s intense search that included more than 10 candidates. They were vetted by Mayor Bliss and city management over the past six months. The candidate pool was assembled based on referrals from the current interim police chief and police leadership organizations.

The candidate pool was then narrowed down to the four candidates who the search committee determined as being strongest for the role. These candidates were interviewed on August 10 by two panels consisting of more than 20 individuals, including a combination of Evanston Police Department staff, elected officials, city management and community members. Mediators were utilized during the interviews to ensure an objective process.

Immediately following the interview, City Council held a special meeting on the evening of August 10, where the candidate pool was narrowed down to three, based on feedback from panel members and mediators. On September 8, the city held a Police Chief Candidate Forum, where community members were able to get to know the final candidates and ask questions. Following the forum and after community members had had an opportunity to provide feedback, City Manager Stowe hosted a one-on-one interview with the final three candidates. In addition to Stewart, they included Migdalia Bulnes, a 24-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. She works on the Street Operations Unit of the Office of the First Deputy Superintendent

The other candidate, Joshua T. Hunt, has 20 years of law enforcement experience, having served in various patrol, investigative and administrative positions. Currently, Hunt serves as the Chief of the Cook County States Attorney’s Office Investigations Bureau.

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