Recipe to rebuild Chicago’s moribund community policing program

SHARE Recipe to rebuild Chicago’s moribund community policing program

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson announces the Chicago Police Department’s newly revised Use of Force policy during a press conference at Public Safety Headquarters on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Inadequate training, insufficient funding and incessant bureaucratic shuffling has allowed Chicago’s 24-year-old community policing program to wither and die.

That’s the bottom line from an advisory committee created by Police Supt. Eddie Johnson to devise ways to rebuild the moribund program.

In a draft report made public Thursday, the panel recommended a top-to-bottom overhaul of the program under a deputy chief for community policing who reports directly to Johnson.

Chaired by Chief of Patrol Fred Waller, the panel also recommended that all police recruits and even veteran officers be trained in “cultural diversity and competency, active listening and effective community engagement tactics.”

To engage young people between the age of 16 and 24, the panel recommended the creation of a citywide Youth Advisory Council that meets regularly with the superintendent and similar “Youth Advisory Councils” in every district.

Every district would also have an unspecified number of officers and civilians devoted exclusively to community policing, with the precise number varying with neighborhood needs.

Last fall, Johnson acknowledged that Chicago’s once trailblazing community policing program had fallen victim to budget cuts and bureaucratic inertia.

“When we streamlined the CAPS offices, we inadvertently cut some ties with the community that were invaluable in terms of giving us the information that we needed to keep those communities safe,” he told aldermen during budget hearings.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) warned on that day that CAPS meetings had turned into little more than “face-to-face 911.”

“Neighbor has a complaint. Gives it to the cop. The sergeant waits 30 days and gets a report back. . . . Face-to-face 911 is not authentic,” Munoz said then.

The Community Policing Advisory Panel essentially reached that same conclusion after holding three community hearings and surveying 823 residents and 1,387 police officers.

Only 28 percent of officers surveyed felt department leadership “valued community policing a lot or to a great extent.” And nearly 90 percent felt the brass seldom if ever “encouraged and rewarded officers for building relationships with the community.

The report noted that the community policing program has turned into a political football, shifting from bureau to bureau, then the superintendent’s office and back again.

“Training for recruits on community policing has ranged from a high of 40 hours to a low of two hours. Training for other department members has been sporadic at best. Oversight and accountability for community policing has also waxed and waned,” the report states.

To survive and thrive, community policing “must be seen as a core function of the department by all its members and be reflected in all operational facets,” the report states. But that will take money the department has not been willing to spend.

“The budget for community policing has been insufficient to fully support effective citywide and grassroots implementation and has, in part contributed to the diminished focus on effective community engagement,” the report said. “The budget appropriation must be increased and maintained at the level necessary to implement the recommendations.”

A persistent thread in all of the surveys and community meetings was the fact that Chicagoans “equated CAPS with one-off events and programs that did little to build sustainable relationships,” the reports states.

“These relationships must not be primarily developed through special programs, but rather through sustained community engagement by police in a non-enforcement capacity . . . outside of patrol activities,” the reports states.

“When the community engages in a positive and productive manner with police and police listen to community ideas and concerns, joint solutions and trust can be developed,” the report says. “As the community comes to trust police, they will be more willing to share responsibility for the effectiveness of the strategies and tactics used to produce solutions.”

In a press release, Mayor Rahm Emanuel welcomed the recommendations and said they would be posted online and open to public comment for the next 30 days.

After that, a detailed “plan of action” will be drafted to implement the findings.

“These recommendations will work to continue to strengthen community trust and engagement, which in turn strengthens public safety and supports police in the crime fight,” the mayor was quoted as saying.

Newly reappointed Police Board President Lori Lightfoot has complained that the program created by former Mayor Richard M. Daley had been “allowed to wither on the vine” and is “pretty much dead.”

On Thursday, she commended Johnson for “putting together a thoughtful, comprehensive plan” to revive the program and make community policing “the cornerstone of the department’s operating philosophy.”

“It is critically important that the hard work of reaching out and re-engaging members of the community to work in concert with the Police Department continue,” Lightfoot said.

“I look forward to doing everything I can to continue to help bridge the divides that exist,” she added. “They need to invest, invest invest. But this is a decent plan.”

Five years ago, Emanuel made a similar pledge to breathe new life into the city’s stagnant community-policing program.

Emanuel said then that 50 community-policing employees would be moved from police headquarters to districts where they would join about 70 other employees in the program.

Their performance would then come under the scrutiny of the department’s CompStat evaluation system.

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