Cuts in the community policing program concern West Side residents

November 9, 2010
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Not long after Mayor Daley pledged to add 200 more Chicago police officers to the streets as part of his 2011 budget, the 15th District saw cuts in its community policing program.

A reassignment of police personnel throughout the city resulted in the number of 15th District CAPS (Community Alternative Policing Strategy) officers dropping from five to two, leaving some residents worried.

Three CAPS officers – Cassandra Norman, Carla Johnson and Craig Williams – are now working as regularly assigned officers, said 15th District CAPS Office Community Organizer Christine Perez.

“These officers are patrolling on the streets now in Austin. We are expecting two new civilians to come into the 15th District to perform some of their job duties, but no word yet,” said Perez. “I do not know what the civilians or the officers that stayed are responsible for yet.”

Community members are needed to fill this critical gap, said Perez.

“Residents can get involved by attending their monthly beat meetings, and getting connected to their local police department and block clubs,” Perez said.

Confirming the reduction in CAPS staffing, Chicago Police Deputy Chief John J. Escalante of Area 5, which includes District 15, said the cuts have affected each of the city’s 25 police districts.

Speaking last week at a Westside Ministers Coalition meeting, Escalante confirmed there is now one sergeant and two officers in each CAPS office; the changes moved one sergeant and roughly three to four officers back on the street. Each district will recruit a couple of civilians who are already working with the CAPS program to help fill the void, said Escalante.

He said the CAPS restructuring “is something that’s still being worked out and will happen throughout the rest of the year.”

The reassignment did not come as a huge shock considering the lack of support the CAPS program has received, said Elce Redmond, who works with the South Austin Coalition.

“There’s no real sense of commitment to keep it going,” said Redmond. “Ten to 15 years ago, they [Chicago Police Department members] were touting it, but now it’s not as glamorous.”

The CAPS officers serve an important need, and their reassignment will unravel the relationship of trust that’s been established between the Chicago Police Department and West Side residents, said Redmond.

“Now there’s no real partnership,” said Redmond.  “Remember communities are not numbers or statistics; until there is a good relationship, this will mirror what happened in the 1960s and 1970s.”

The news caught others by surprise.

“The Austin community was shocked and in disbelief of the quick changes in the CAPS program,” said Mary E. Brown, president of the Quincy Street Block Club.

Brown asked what will happen to CAPS programs and long-standing relationships built between officers and seniors, youths and other residents.

“This change in the CAPS has created another manpower shortage,” said Brown. “These officers were interested in our feeling and concerns.”

It’s important to increase the police force on the streets, said Philip Burke, co-coordinator of the 5500 Quincy Block Club, but it should not result in a reduction of important services like community policing – including programs like 100 corners/100 blocks held this past June, which drew scores of people to various Austin streets for an hour every Wednesday night that month to take a stand against violence.

“That’s a primary concern,” Burke said.

CAPS officers, while not out in the streets patrolling a beat, have made the community feel safer, said Burke.

“I like to have that one-on-one connection to help fortify trust, being able to speak to an officer and develop a rapport,” Burke said.

Addressing important but less sensational crimes such as loitering is just as critical in fighting violence and drug activity, said Burke.

“One of the biggest complaints I have is that it’s one thing to focus on big crime issues, but there are always limited resources on quality of life and nuisance issues where people don’t feel safe,” Burke said.

The loss of the three officers is going to be challenging, said Sgt. Glenn White, but the safety of officers working the streets is important.

“In hard times, it means making hard decisions,” said White. “We now have two officers doing the work of five officers.”

Over the last eight years, the Chicago Police Department has lost over 5,000 officers, said White. In Austin, the number of officers dropped from 345 to 264 in a span of four years, he said.

There had been six CAPS officers at one point, an all-time high in the 15th District. But White said the department plans to go back to the original intention of the nearly 20-year-old CAPS program – of an equal partnership between citizens and police.

“It got off track,” said White. “We [the police] are doing 80 percent, and the citizens are doing 20 percent.”

White said even with the decrease, the domestic violence, youth and peer jury programs that are a mainstay of CAPS will continue.

“We love working in tandem with citizens, impacting individual areas one at a time,” White said.

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11 thoughts on “Cuts in the community policing program concern West Side residents

  1. In the last year Caps at the 15th district has changed for the better. The relationships between Caps officers and the citizens of the Austin area has grown dramatically, We the citizens of the Austin community had just begun to really feel the impact of working with the 15th District Police Dept and the Caps officers to make a difference in our community. We finally found people we could relate to and have trust in their wisdom to lead us in the right direction. With the help of Community organizer Christine Perez, we were really moving in the right direction .This community needs more leaders like Christine Perez to continue the work she’s doing to gain our respect and be with us ever step of the way. As Block Club President of the 00-100 block of Lotus I recommend that Christine should receive an AWARD for all the time,hard work, team work,community involvement , pray vigils, and touching so many lives in this community. (Many thank to all our Caps Officers)

    Diana Graham

  2. What does Sgt White mean when he stated the Peer Jury and Dosmestic Violence Programs will go on? They got rid of both Officers that were overseeing those programs well over “eight years.” The Officers overseeing the programs now, know nothing about the programs. I am speaking from a parent’s view and as a member of the domestic violence subcommittee. I am very disappointed in the Department with their decision.

  3. It deeply saddens me that the officers I were in the program with are being taken out of the CAPS program. These programs helped my younger brother and I stay out of trouble and do things we were passionate about, an outlet. These programs definitely created a bond between my family and the community and it upsets me that children joining after me will not be granted the same experience.

  4. CAPS is a very important program and extremely vital especially in a neighborhood like Austin (for various reasons). The necessary steps should be taken in order to preserve CAPS and its officers while also maintaining an adequate amount of officers on the streets.

  5. CAPS is a very important program and extremely vital especially in a neighborhood like Austin (for various reasons). The necessary steps should be taken in order to preserve CAPS and its officers while also maintaining an adequate amount of officers on the streets. The officers that have serve for 8 years plus, are a huge asset to the programs because these officers are passionate about their jobs and love what they do.

  6. As a young black male that longs to be in law enforcement as soon as the state will allow , it affected me deeply when they removed one of the most important officers in CAPS. Officer Carla Johnson , who introduced my self and the rest of the former peer jury members to the program, has been moved from her position as the officer in charge of Peer Jury due to cuts in the CAPS office. As the recently former Vice-President of both the explorer scouts and peer jury it angers me that i had to stand by and watch the program be taken over by an uninterested officer do to favorites within the 015 district. If it had came down to the right and best decision for both the CAPS office and the program, Officer Johnson and Officer Williams or Officer Norman would still be in the Office they built and made a name for as a whole. This is not just a comment from one former peer juror but several including the former President of both the explorer scouts and peer jury , Quyanna Covington.

  7. as one of the first jurors in the Peer Jury program in the 15th district, it’s really shocking that the officers that were involved in the infancy of the program were removed from it in order to put newer ones on. They should of been kept in order to have the older ones train them properly, and in addition the older ones can keep up their relationships established with youth in the district.
    I am not sure about the program’s future without the older officers in it. You can’t just build those relationships overnight

  8. With there being so many new recruits in the police academy, having these loyal CAPS officers continue honoring their duties to the Austin community shouldn’t be an issue. It was stated that over 200 officers will be amongst the CPD hiring budget for 2011! Change isn’t always good. The people of the community I’m sure find it hard to trust many so we need to keep them feeling safe, confident and happy so that everyone can continue to work together to do their best in making them feel involved and deter crime if at all possible.

  9. The CAPS is a very important program to me, the members and the people who were ordered to go to it, the program was created so we can change the youth in our community for the better. The times I spent at the police station were some of the best moments of my life, I meet lots of nice people and It helped keep kids like me from ending up in jail. To “Me” this was a great feeling to have and the first time I had a feeling like it. Carla Johnson was like a mother away for home Carla, kept everything flowing and in check from my point of view, but not just that she was also a friend to all of us , someone we could come to and count on when we had a problem that we did not trust others with. I can’t make that kinda connection the the new leader of the group, and its not just me many members who use to go to the CAPS program stoped because they dont feel the same way they felt with Carla Johnson, she was more that a leader she was the best if only person for the job.

  10. Being apart of CAPS going on 5 years, really hit me when my Uncle Craig Williams and mentor Carla Johnson was removed from CAPS. CAPS was the only program where I can say that I really enjoyed myself on the regular and had more fun doing what I loved for my community and myself. Making a difference was what CAPS did, kept most of us as a family off the street and helped those who make bad decisions realize that too! Most who have graduated and become Alumini at Colleges still remember those days of being apart of CAPS and enjoying each other company, while being trained and taught on how to be a better person. Carla was apart of CAPS years and what she thought was years to come, but being stabbed in the back for all she has done for CAPS the way she did has put us in a sad stage. I miss those days of going to Peer Jury and seeing OJ(Officer Johnson) and my uncle Craig set up for another Peer Jury Session, meeting and Trip. I miss all of that, i miss those faces I saw when given another chance to good after being influenced to do something stupid, i miss it all!! All of us apart of CAPS gave it our all and to be a Veteran of CAPS I can say that I had a BLAST! They made a terrible decision, could’nt and CAN’T NO ONE HANDLE CAPS THE WAY OJ DO!!!! LOVE YOU OJ!!!!!!!!!!

  11. I was apart of CAPS and i upset that this had to happen. It is a great experience there and met some really great people while. My cousin Carla was one of those people who got let go and it will not be the same with out her. This program is a great asset to the community but it won’t be the same without Carla.

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