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The Leadership Beat: ‘I aim to empower staff to have a seat at the table or take the lead on projects’

Chief Schenita Stewart shares her key strategies to build employee morale through servant leadership

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The following content is part of a new Police1 initiative – the Police Leader Playbook – aimed at helping new law enforcement leaders move beyond basic management and supervision skills and become inspirational leaders with integrity and passion. Through a handful of questions presented by Police1, veteran leaders reflect on their early days in leadership roles and offer advice, while newer leaders detail their experiences taking on a new position. Email to offer your insights for the Police Leader Playbook.

Chief Schenita Stewart became the chief of the Evanston Police Department in Illinois in October 2022. The department consists of 137 officers, serving a population of 77,000.

Chief Stewart, who grew up in Evanston, previously served as the deputy chief of police for the East Dundee Police Department. Chief Stewart has dedicated much of her law enforcement career to the Lincolnwood Police Department. She has 24 years of law enforcement experience, including 15 years in police leadership roles.

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What was the incident or person in your career who put you on the path to becoming a chief?
My mentor, Cary Lewandowski, the former public safety director for the Village of Glencoe, whom I formally worked with in Lincolnwood.

What do you (or did you) want to accomplish, improve or make better in your first few months as chief?
Upon starting my tenure with the Evanston Police Department (EPD), I faced a long list of challenges that ranged from internal to external. My main focus has been to improve staffing, morale and community engagement.

How are you creating an organizational culture people want to be a part of?
Listening and being accessible have been key to helping the members of my organization share what they need. Early in my time with EPD, patrol contract negotiations were on the table. Working with the union and staff, a solid contract was agreed upon to help retain employees. We also increased recruiting efforts such as hosting information sessions.

What’s your process for making major decisions?
Research, listening and empowering. After doing my own research, I try to listen to different perspectives, and I aim to empower staff to have a seat at the table or take the lead on projects.

How do you show your personnel you are leading with value-based behaviors?
From contract negotiations to just walking the halls, I consistently and publicly support my personnel and encourage them. In a recent recruiting video, I insisted that civilian staff be included as our civilian staff works hard behind the scenes to help this organization function. Maintaining honesty and integrity are essential to workplace harmony.

Leadership lightning round

What is a leadership book, podcast, or seminar you’ve found invaluable?

Leadership First is a great online periodical that I follow on LinkedIn.

How do you organize your day and stay on schedule?

Cell phones and calendar invites are my go-to!

If you knew the budget request would be approved, what’s a big purchase you’d make for your department today?

A new police station to help with recruitment and retention.

What is one way leaders can show they care about their people?

A constant show of appreciation is key.

At the end of the workday, how do you recharge?

Walking my dogs helps me exhale and recharge.

Access more Leadership Beat interviews here.