This month, the Chicago Police Department released a draft of reform recommendations to its beleaguered community policing program. The reforms—which include new community partnerships, a focus on engaging youth, and community-oriented training department-wide—are an effort to improve the frayed relationship between police officers and people, particularly African Americans. Many residents are wary of a department that has a history of corruption, brutality, and a code of silence within its ranks.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has said community policing will be “a pillar” of a new crime-fighting strategy, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has staked the success of this effort on departmental reform.
Police officials have been crisscrossing the city, presenting the ideas in a series of town halls—designed in an open format to solicit a wide range of responses (although, as City Bureau’s Briana Burroughs noted, a meeting held at Sullivan High School in Rogers Park was poorly attended). A Thursday town hall at George Westinghouse College Prep in East Garfield Park had more people, and a few dozen residents attended the August 10 gathering at Corliss High School in Pullman. Here is a sample of the community response.
“We need more police in our community that look like us.”
At the Corliss High meeting, resident Marcel Bright said that police should have a stake in the community and recommended that officers expand engagement to block clubs and youth groups. “[Officers should] treat people like they want their family members to be treated,” he said. “That should be damn near written on the side of these cars.”
Robin Robinson, director of community affairs for CPD, said the latest reform draft was a step in the right direction, but she agrees that police need to integrate. “You don’t just serve there, you are there,” she said, adding that police shouldn't be an "occupying force … [that] doesn’t have any connection with anyone there.”
One business owner Kevin Jones said he’s more concerned with the safety of his family and business. “I want the police to police. I don’t care what color they are, where they come from. My property has been broken into, I don’t care who the police are as long as they come," he said.
“That’s the community policing officer. That’s the soft job. It’s not a core part of CPD.”
Many residents said the department culture needs to change. Andre Garner, a South Sider, said the policy recommendations are good ideas. “In a vacuum, they work absolutely,” he said, but community policing needs to be adopted by all officers and the recommendations address policy only.
"Where we have had a breakdown in recent years is in culture. And the culture is the purview of the [police union],” Garner said. “Nothing I’ve seen here is addressing [the union].” He wants police to adopt a pay-for-performance model with tangible goals that “officers are measured on.”
(Robinson said that throughout the department, community police are considered separate from the “real police,” and that’s a problem—an idea echoed in the U.S. Department of Justice report on the CPD’s systemic problems).
Alderman Ariel Reboyras, chairman of the City Council's public safety committee, said the changes are already underway and success of the program will require “every officer” to understand it. “All categories, not just the CAPS office, needs to follow the same rules.”
“My issue is community service. It says to serve and protect.”
An advisory panel of 12 people drafted the recommendations, and Jim Lew sat on it as a community representative (he helped write the original policy, back in 1993). He says the framework is strong—“a true attempt to change the culture”—but its success depends on implementation, which he says has failed in the past. “It was gutted,” Lew said of the previous community policing program.
A 2016 report by the Chicago Reader and City Bureau found that the community policing program had been carved out by budget cuts and neglect. Lew is watching closely to see who is appointed to direct the program and wants to see an organizational chart outlining how the ideas will be baked into the department.
“We actually have to say, there's no room in this department if you're not going to take on those [community-oriented] roles,” Lew said. “We [have to] figure out how to evolve, which means rehabbing a house that [we are] living in. That's going to be our challenge.”
Officer Vanessa Wesley said the community policing program works, but it’s old and needs to evolve. She said the community should take ownership. “What we're looking at now is how do we come along side of community and empower them to be the sustainers of their safety.”