When the Community Prosecutions Program closed its doors at 4 W. Chicago in Oak Park in February 2007, it left a void on both sides of Austin Boulevard.
The fight to bring back the program started immediately thereafter. Now three years later under a new name, the Community Justice Center will reopen in July at its previous location, Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Joy Repella told about 40 residents at a local police meeting in Oak Park last week.
This is a program that communities rave about, Repella noted, adding that it will serve both Austin and Oak Park in three ways: prosecution, prevention and problem-solving.
“This was a campaign promise made by [Cook County State’s Attorney] Anita Alvarez, and one she has followed through on,” Repella said. “We have heard nothing but good things about these centers and their effect on the neighborhoods they serve.”
The cases handled in this office will be chosen based on the communities’ needs, Repella said. The office will have a liaison officer who will attend meetings in the community and reach out to neighborhood groups to address specific issues, including loitering in front of schools, burglary, theft and the drug war.
Repella called it a sad day when the Community Prosecutions Program was forced to close its doors because of budget woes. She said Austin and Oak Park residents will now regain the support they need.
“We want to go after the people who cause constant chaos. We try to focus on the few people who commit an awful lot of crimes, to help clean up the communities and make them safer,” she said.
Rev. Lewis Flowers, president of the Westside Ministers Coalition, agreed that the Austin community has missed the crime-fighting program.
“This is a big step in the right direction,” he said. “This is an important program, and it will shore up what we are already doing with the community, the churches and the police department. Now the state’s attorney is there for us as a support system to make sure the offenders don’t offend us anymore.”
He added that the program sends a very clear message that “there is no place for crime in our communities.” The center, he noted, will help both communities deal with criminals who cross the Chicago-Oak Park boarder at Austin Boulevard.
“This was a successful program for the seven years we had it,” Flowers recalled. “We have never stopped the fight to bring it back, and now that it is coming back, we are sending a message that we are on the same page and we won’t tolerate the crime anymore.”
Repella said another major benefit is that residents will be allowed to report crime and problems anonymously, and, with the help of court advocacy groups, the state’s attorney can try cases even if witnesses and victims are too scared to testify.
Flowers said in most cases residents want, or even need, to remain anonymous, and this office will allow that, breaking the “code of silence because of fear.”
Cmdr. Walter Green of Austin’s 15th District said he could not comment on the new program because the Chicago Police Department’s News Affairs office had not researched the subject.