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The need to do more with more

Wed, May 2, 2012

Jim LoBianco

Several weeks ago I wrote about a gang shooting that took place in front of the StreetWise office building in which an innocent bystander was wounded by the gunfire. In that article I repeated Mayor Emmanuel’s call for people across the city to get involved in efforts to take neighborhoods back from the violent gangs that hold them hostage. I was not the only one in the StreetWise office contemplating the ramifications of the violence plaguing Chicago.

In this week’s edition, StreetWise Editor Suzanne Hanney explores the issue from the perspective of an Alderman, a university professor, and the Chicago Police Department, (Making every penny count with policing, page 6). The article touches on two critical factors in crime reduction: community engagement and police presence. Unfortunately, it appears to me that today in Chicago both of these tools are terribly weakened.

In recent history, Chicago’s single greatest vehicle for community involvement was the CAPS Program (Community Alternative Policing Strategy). Formed almost twenty years ago, CAPS revolutionized the relationship between citizens and their “beat cops.” CAPS focused on the need for open lines of communication between residents and their local police, so they could jointly identify solutions to chronic neighborhood problems. The CAPS slogan, “Together We Can,” typified the spirit of cooperation between police and the community in fighting crime.
Now CAPS is all but gone. People continue to go through the motions; but, the spirit has long since passed on. CAPS meetings are held in police districts; however, I am willing to bet that true examples of collaborative problem solving are few and far between.

What caused the demise of the CAPS program? There is no doubt in my mind that the leading cause is our shrunken police force. The success of CAPS hung on having a team of dedicated officers, trained in community engagement and problem solving, who could blend the knowledge of tactical/gang officers with the needs and resources of the community. As the number of cops started to decline, so did the resources available to CAPS. With fewer police to carry out the essential work of CAPS, the community engagement piece fell apart.

One of the most salient points quoted in Suzanne Hanney’s article comes from Arthur Lurigio PhD, “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.”

The CAPS program recognized that police officers need to do more than just sweep through a neighborhood and lock up bad guys. To be truly effective the police must be part of the community, both in law enforcement and in community development. Unless the City of Chicago abandons its current course and starts hiring more police officers, I fear that the city’s two most effective tools for combating crime will both remain uselessly weakened.

By Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. You are welcome to contact me at either jlobianco@streetwise.org or (773) 334-6600 (ext. 22).

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