Rooting for the best for ‘Cop House’ in Roseland

Ald. Anthony Beale’s sketchy plan to convert a vacant house into a community policing center leaves many questions unanswered, but the concept is said to have worked elsewhere.

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Ald. Anthony Beale

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Ald. Anthony Beale deserves credit for pushing a unique approach to making his Far South Side ward safer.

So we’re hoping his proposed pilot project to convert a vacant Roseland house into a “Cop House” — a community policing center that officers would frequent — does just that.

The City Council Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday authorized $250,000 toward the program, rescuing it just days after Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially rejected it and said it lacked details.

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“This is an opportunity to build a cop house in the heart of a problem area to start building confidence and relationships back between the police and the citizens,” Beale said.

Beale has pushed for a Cop House in Roseland since 2019 but has disclosed little about the idea beyond broad strokes. The alderman hasn’t even revealed the proposed house’s address or the list of non-governmental funders that he says will back the project.

A Lightfoot critic, Beale said he has held his cards closely because of his cold war with the mayor.

“Our funders have asked that their names not be released until the city formally endorses the pilot project,” Beale said in a letter to Lightfoot after she torpedoed the proposal last week. “We respect that and, with the detours and delays of the past two years, see the wisdom of their reticence.”

But ultimately, Beale will have to be forthcoming, particularly about the donors.

The city funding is contingent on the Cop House having a corporate sponsor committed to providing support for two years, and the source of those funds must be “acceptable” to the city budget director and police superintendent. After the vote, the mayor’s office said she was now OK with the project, given those conditions.

In addition, we’d want the city to demand that researchers monitor the program and regularly — and publicly — report out its results and failures.

Still, the idea of a Cop House has merit on a trial basis, given the success it has had in other cities.

Racine, Wisconsin, has created six Cop Houses in high crime areas since 1996, bought and rehabbed with state and philanthropic funds, and staffed by officers with better-than-average skills at problem-solving and communication.

The Racine houses have classroom spaces and a computer lab. Police and volunteers help with homework and do arts and crafts projects with residents.

Racine police say crime has dropped up to 70% in Cop House neighborhoods. The program has improved community relations between residents and police.

If Beale’s plan can bring this to Roseland, we’re for it.

Send letters toletters@suntimes.com.

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