Posted by StreetWise in Latest NewsIt’s 3:15 p.m. on a Monday and Ald. James Cappleman (46th ward) is surrounded by high schoolers as he orders a tall soda at the McDonald’s on Wilson Avenue at Sheridan Road.
But this is no coffee break for the Uptown alderman. Instead, it is the middle of the crucial 45 minutes after the 3 p.m. dismissal of Uplift School, down the street at 900 W. Wilson Ave. Already there have been two near-fights among the kids, the result of two people who felt “disrespected,” he said.
Cappleman never gets in between two would-be opponents, but he uses his cell phone to call 911. A squad car arrives within seconds and police search a young man who is out after serving time for hitting a lady who was carrying a baby. The young man is so much older than the students that Cappleman privately questions his reasons for being there.
The fast food restaurant sits within a triangle from Montrose to Lawrence and Broadway to Sheridan Road that is “neutral territory” for gangs. That’s not as in¬nocuous as it sounds, however. The Conservative Vice Lords are east of Sheridan Road, the Black P Stones to the west and the Gangster Disciples to the north; all of them would like to move their drug sales into the triangle.
“In any neutral area you’re going to see more action because the gangs are at war with each other,” Cappleman said.
Drug dealers, however, disburse their business when they see the alderman or his staff members, because the dealers know the staffers use their cell phones to call police, Cappleman said. He says the problem is not the students– there are metal detec¬tors and overall tight security at the school – but outsiders harassing the kids on their way to the CTA Red Line stop at Wilson just west of Broadway.
Getting adults such as his staff or local church members and businesspeople to act as escorts “lets the students know we are there so they feel safe when they go home,” he said. This informal “safe passage” program also augments police efforts, which rev up generally upon school dismissal.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to use every penny wisely,” because the pen¬sion holiday expires next year for police and firefighters and in 2014 for teachers, says Cappleman, a member of the Chicago City Council budget committee who is also a licensed clinical social worker. In addition, the Chicago Police Department contract is up June 30.
Cappleman says, yes, he would like to see more police hired “and walking the beat from 3 to 3:40 p.m., not just in cars.” But he also wants more concentration on “performance metrics,” which look at past crimes to predict new ones: a gang shoot¬ing, for example, in retaliation.
“I believe we have to be more proactive, look at where we are using a disproportionate number of police and see what else we can do besides use more police,” he said.
As an example, he talked about work with the local police commander over people sleeping in a park on the south side of his ward. Police come to the park at 9 p.m. and again at 1 and 4 a.m., but “the real answer goes beyond police shooing people away,” the alderman said. Many of these people have mental health and substance abuse issues.
In the old order of business, social ser¬vice agencies competed with each other in terms of meals and beds provided and num¬bers of people tested for various diseases; often, there was duplication of services.
“That’s changed,” Cappleman said. “Now we provide grants to social services that show evidence they’re getting their clients into permanent housing with wraparound services. The days of having them live in a shelter are over.” One single room occupancy hotel in his ward is one-third vacant; the key to getting people to move in is making them feel safe there, he said.
“But using resources wisely, we’ll do a much better job of addressing public safety,” Cappleman said.
Arthur Lurigio PhD is professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University Chicago and dean of the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences. He was also part of a multi-university team that has evaluated the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) since its inception in 1993.
Lurigio agrees with Cappleman that performance metrics are important and should measure police activities that are proactive rather than simply reactive in responding to crime or calls for service.
“We think police should concentrate only on crime to lower crime,” Lurigio said. “But if that’s all they do, they do not have much of an effect on crime. They need to concentrate as well on social and physical disorder: the empty lot full of garbage, the abandoned buildings that should be boarded up, the garbage on the streets, the hazards that prevent kids from playing, the graffiti that causes people to be afraid and not use the streets as much. You need residents to engage in collective efforts to contribute to the betterment of the community; where collective efficacy
is high, crime is low because citizens feel they can affect change in solidarity with others. They share common goals and most important, a sense of community. If you experience a sense of belongingness, you will be more protective of the streets. People who don’t have that sentiment will not be attuned to everybody else, but to ‘what is best for me,’ maybe instant gratification. Younger men in particular may just have a sense of themselves.”
Lurigio has spoken about community policing on the South and West Sides, yet he estimates that only about 10 percent of the population – “the same community members, the activists and church leaders, Father [Michael] Pfleger and leading clergy” – participate. It’s far short of the necessary critical mass,” he said. “You need more people, but if they feel apathetic they won’t participate. The worst sense is hopelessness and helpless. They go hand in glove.”
Police take too much blame for crime statistics when the root causes are intergenerational poverty and despair, he said. Yet society insufficiently confronts these root causes. “It’s like blaming doctors because we have a disease. It’s akin to having a brain tumor and taking an Advil instead of excising the tumor. We keep talking about crime in a manner that looks at it in isolation and it continues because we never get at the root cause. That’s not the responsibility of the police.”
StreetWise interviewed Lurigio 15 years ago about violent crime in neighborhoods that lack jobs and stability. Englewood on the South Side and Harrison Street on the West Side are still unsafe today despite major concentrations of police, he said, because those areas have not been transformed economically.
“The long term changes in commu¬nity cannot be effectuated by police officers alone,” he said. “The larger forces are outside their control. Police still have to go about their day-to-day business. They still get drug sales off the street, confiscate guns. What they should do as a complement is work with residents on the quality of life in the neighborhood. Crime never occurs in a vacuum.”
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Spokesman Pat Camden agreed that proactive work is the biggest deterrent to crime, but he said that years of low hiring have decimated police ranks so that officers are running from call to call. “There’s no time for proactive work, for example, you’re driving down the street and you see someone who resembles the description in a rob¬bery but you’re responding to another call. You can’t keep running from call to call to call.”
FOP’s biggest demand in the upcoming police contract, Camden said, is “more manpower.”
“Not only this mayor, but the previous administration for the past four years was not hiring. And If you don’t hire, you have to pay the end result: a lack of police presence and pulling people from other districts.” Such was the case, for example, this summer, when police from the southwest side were brought to Michigan Avenue to dispel teen flash mobs.
Over the past three years, 1,566 people have left the Chicago Police Department, yet only 377 have been hired in the same period. Normal attrition is 50 officers a month due to retirement, sickness or discharge, which would mean hiring 600 annually just to maintain numbers, Camden said.
Although at one time Chicago Police Department ranks numbered 13,500, Camden estimated only 9,400 patrolmen now; detectives, supervisors and sergeants, lieu¬tenants and other officers bring the Chicago Police force to about 12,000, he said.
Written by Suzanne Hanney,