Austin’s 15th District police will partner with neighborhood youth in an event next month in hopes of healing tensions between the department and community.
Saturday, Feb. 27 is the date for the district’s police/youth cook-off.
Officers will work with youth in making salads and sandwiches, smoothies and a dessert for the food prep challenge.
Eight to 10 teams with youth ages 13 to 24 are invited to participate, and family and friends are invited to cheer them on.
Tensions and distrust are at an all-time high between Chicago police and black communities on the South and West sides following the release of police shooting videos in the last two months showing officers killing African-American youth.
The department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have vowed to rebuild that trust despite skepticism from residents and activists.
The 15th District’s event is one small step to make that vow more of a reality, said officer Jamay Nellum of the 15th District CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) office.
“It’s really meant to build better relations and trust with the community and police. With all the things that’s going on in the media, we figured this is a wonderful way to bridge that gap,” she said.
The cook-off is a part of the department’s Bridging the Divide program, a CAPS initiative designed to get officers interacting with youth in more positive ways. The main goal is getting officers and youth together in settings to talk and communicate, said Vanessa Westley, program manager for the city’s CAPS program.
The city launched Bridging the Divide two years ago. Along with the cafe-style community conversations, the program hosts fun events like talent shows and cooking competitions.
The 4th District on the far South Side hosted a cook-off event last summer that proved successful, Westley said.
“It was an experience, and it really taught me about the openness and resilience of our kids. These kids had a ball. It was interesting to see the energy behind their creativity. And the officers had a ball and learned from the kids.”
The 15th District is hoping to get about 40 youth to participate. The community room will be decked out like a food market with the youth “shopping” for their items first before working together to make their meals.
Each team will make a sandwich, salad, smoothie and a dessert of their own creation. The winners and runner-ups will receive a prize, a medal and a certificate.
The district’s CAPS office is funding much of the event but has also received donations from the community for things like blenders to make the smoothies.
The CAPS office is also recruiting officers to participate. 15th District Officer Ivan Aviles said he’s on board.
The third-year officer actually has a culinary background. A self-taught cook, Aviles spent a decade in the restaurant industry before becoming a Chicago cop, doing everything from waiting tables to tending bar to preparing meals. His wife attended Kendall College, one of the city’s top culinary schools.
Aviles said he has some dishes already in mind.
“I’m thinking about doing like a hoagie-style, old-school sandwich, a savory salad with some bacon and almonds, and I want to make my own salad dressing. I am so excited about this. And we’re gonna take this, first place,” Aviles said, adding that he likes working with kids.
“If you just talk with them, it relives that tension and completely lights up their day. It makes them feel like you’re not the big bad police officer just yelling at them. You’re actually listening to them and giving them a little bit of your time.”
The police/youth cook-off will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Feb. 27 at Austin High School, 231 N. Pine.
For more information about or to make a donate to the event, call (312) 743-1495.