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.