Two years ago, an advisory committee created by Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson proposed a top-to-bottom overhaul of a community policing program allowed to wither and die because of inadequate training, insufficient funding and incessant bureaucratic shuffling.
Johnson did follow through on the committee’s recommendation to appoint Dwayne Betts as deputy chief for community policing reporting directly to the superintendent.
But little progress has been made on other changes, including: training officers in “cultural diversity and competency, active listening and effective community engagement tactics”; creating a citywide Youth Advisory Council and similar councils in each of the 22 districts; and giving each district an unspecified number of officers and civilians devoted exclusively to community policing.
Compared to those sweeping changes, the initiative unveiled Tuesday is a baby step.
It calls for each police district to designate a “business liaison officer” to make certain local businesses know the rules and get a chance to solve problems before City Hall brings the hammer down.
Betts said the liaisons have two primary roles, each requiring a monthly meeting .
The first meeting will concentrate on creating “opportunities for positive engagement” and on making certain local businesses know the “expectations” of area residents.
He talked about increased foot patrols, more frequent visits to local businesses and encouraging partnerships between residents, businesses and police. Each liaison officer will have a cell phone businesses can call at any time.
The second monthly meeting will deal exclusively with “violence deterrence.”
If there are problem businesses with a spike in criminal activity, police liaisons will work with those businesses to develop a corrective safety plan, Betts said.
“We’ll try to give them a chance to remedy problems on their own by making a few adjustments before enhanced enforcement is required,” Betts said.
Johnson added: “This new initiative does not set out to punish businesses that are having trouble remaining in good standing. Instead, we’re bringing them to the table as community partners to collaborate on violence deterrence strategies in each of our neighborhoods.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot noted that the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection has been working with Chicago police officers and downtown businesses for years.
Now, the city is “expanding that partnership into other districts across the city that equally need” the alliance, she said.
“In some instances, businesses are struggling. They’re struggling because they’re being victimized by people in communities [who] are committing crime,” the mayor said.
“What we hope happens is, they’re gonna be eyes and ears that directly report — not only to the district commander, but help with the enforcement. … In that way, it’s our hope this will aid in reducing crime in particular neighborhoods.”
Lightfoot acknowledged “more work needs to be done” to revitalize a once-trail-blazing community policing program that became a political football — shifting from bureau to bureau, then to the superintendent’s office, then back again, with an insufficient budget.
“This is just a piece of it. … We need to do a much better job of getting individual community members back into beat meetings,” she said.
“At its core, community policing means breaking down the barriers between police and members of the community. That’s gonna look different in every community because the needs are different. The assets and the opportunities are different. “
Johnson argued he has done “quite a bit to re-invigorate” community policing and “build it back up.”
Still, the youth councils and so many other recommendations made by the community policing task force have not been implemented.
“You have to take your time to get these things right,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to rush anything and then have to re-boot it six months later.”
Later, Lightfoot held another “Accountability Monday” meeting with CPD officials to rehash weekend violence and continue to hold Johnson’s feet to the fire.
“I’m asking tough, probing questions. And as I said to them last week, `If you don’t want to be here, I’m happy to have a meeting where no one shows up because everybody’s doing their work and the violence is starting to de-escalate. That’s certainly the goal,” she said.
Lightfoot said she was out on Saturday night in CPD’s 11th, 12th, 15th and 18th districts and has “some questions based upon what I observed out there on the street.”
Pressed on whether she’s confident the Chicago Police Department has a crime-fighting strategy for the summer, she said: “They do, but I think it has to be more pro-active and I’m gonna push them to do that.”