Chicago police to expand program in which officers seek to be neighborhood ‘problem solvers’

The Neighborhood Policing Initiative will expand to areas of the West and Southwest sides.

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a press conference at the 10th District Police Station in Lawndale Thursday morning, Aug. 20, 2020. Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announced the expansion of the neighborhood policing initiative, which they claim will improve relationships between police and residents by allowing them to directly call their district coordination officers instead of calling 911.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown announced the expansion Thursday of the neighborhood policing initiative.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Chicago Police Department is expanding a community policing program that seeks to have officers build genuine relationships with residents in order to work together to address public safety concerns before they result in calls to 911.

The first task of those officers, known as district coordination officers, will be to introduce themselves to as many people as possible in a small designated area, handing out business cards with their cellphone numbers and simply chatting with folks on front porches, Police Supt. David Brown said Thursday at a news conference outside a Southwest Side police station.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said those first interactions will lay the groundwork for residents to dial the officer’s cellphone instead of calling 911.

“Those conversations often begin with nagging issues, such as speeding cars or a loud neighbor, but rather than call 911 when these issues come up, residents know that they can call their DCO, who then works to resolve these issues with the help of beat officers, detectives, local aldermen, area businesses and, of course, their colleagues in city government and other agencies,” Lightfoot said.

The program was first tested in the Grand Central District on the West Side in January and has resulted in 1,500 fewer calls to 911 through mid-August compared with the same period the previous year.

The program is being expanded to the Deering, Ogden and Harrison police districts, which include portions of the West and Southwest Sides that contain “communities with the most need” and the “largest challenges,” said Lightfoot, who also announced a new program to train officers for the program.

The Community Training Academy will be a three-day training program for officers that will deepen “understanding of historic, key factors relating to policing and community concern in a particular geography,” Lightfoot said.

Officers will hear directly from members of the community what those concerns are and “develop an understanding of the biases that hamper the strong engagement we need to make our communities safe,” Lightfoot said.

Brown framed the program as one that will build trust and allow people to feel comfortable enough to report other, more violent crimes in their neighborhoods.

“Instead of criminals feeling emboldened, they’re on their heels, concerned that someone might turn them in,” Brown said.

Officers in the expanded Neighborhood Policing Initiative will also seek to help residents with job and housing assistance and domestic violence counseling. The program will work in tandem with other community policing programs.

Ald. Ariel Reboyras, whose 30th Ward includes part of the Grand Central district, where the program has been in operation for months, spoke glowingly of it.

“The NPI is the future of the Chicago Police Department, and I think we need to remember that,” he said.

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