Dwayne Betts, who has been police commander at Austin’s 15th District for almost three years, has been promoted to deputy chief of the department’s Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program. 

A Chicago Police Department spokesperson said that Lt. Ernest Cato, of the 15th District, will replace Betts in the position. The spokesperson did not confirm whether Cato will serve on an interim or more permanent basis. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the announcement during his Oct. 18 budget address. He cited Betts’ work in the 15th District, particularly his work with the community, as reasons for the promotion. But during the Oct. 19 Chicago Police Review Board meeting, some local community leaders argued that the commander didn’t deserve the promotion, complaining that police department hasn’t been responsive to their concerns.

The CAPS program was started in 1993 as a way to improve the communication and cooperation between police officers and the communities they serve. At the beat meetings, officers and residents can talk about local crime issues and figure out ways to address them. CAPS officers also attend community events and, in certain cases, community meetings organized by aldermen, to help further these goals. 

But, as the Chicago Reader reported in a Sept. 12, 2016 feature, funding for CAPS has been declining, even as CPD’s overall budget has increased. In January 2012, Emanuel gave commanders control over CAPS in their districts. 

While the measure was billed as a way to revitalize the program, the Reader analysis found that it created a situation where some districts did more community outreach than others, and the amount of outreach didn’t necessarily correlate to how much money they were getting. Meanwhile, CAPS’ overall budget hasn’t changed much.

In winter 2015, the fallout from the release of the videotaped shooting of Laquan McDonald by a police officer pushed community-police relations into the forefront. CAPS received $19,724 more in funding than a year before. The budget for salaries went up from $3,767,896 to $3,787,620. While the overall number of positions remained the same, the 2017 budget proposal listed two more CAPS community organizers, one less deputy director and one less police officer then FY 2016 budget.

By contrast, Emanuel’s proposed 2018 budget calls for an additional $3 million in order to “to enhance community policing efforts, including growing the dedicated community policing staff by 30 additional community relations coordinators, organizers and advocates, expanding community policing training, and enhancing District Advisory Councils and Youth District Advisory Councils,” according to language in the budget document. 

While it isn’t entirely clear how that money will be spent, it is clear that at least some of that money went into hiring. Most notably, the number of CAPS community organizers went from 23 to 43, the number of youth service coordinators went from three to eight and while the 2017 budget had just one domestic violence advocate, the 2018 budget proposal has five.

In his budget speech, Emanuel didn’t talk about CAPS specifically, though he did touch on community policing in general.

“Community policing is a cornerstone of the Chicago Police Department,” he said. “It is built on the foundation of trust.”

Betts has been a regular fixture at Austin area community meetings held by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), where he summarized the major crime issues in the area, listened to residents’ concerns and took questions. 

“Our biggest enemy is not the Vice Lords or Corner Hustlers — it’s losing the community trust,” Betts said during a community forum last March.  

But for some Austin residents who spoke during the Police Review Board meeting, which was held at CPD headquarters on the South Side, Betts’ record doesn’t merit a promotion. 

Serethea Reid, the founder of the Central Austin Neighborhood Association, said that she and many other residents have little confidence in CAPS and police officers under Betts’ command.

“In our community, the main feeling is that policing is a failure,” she said. “[Residents] have no confidence that attending a CAPS meeting has any impact. “They are fearful. They feel like, when they say something, it comes back to them. They’re tormented by gangsters.”

Her husband, Ronald Reid, said that the community tried organizing block clubs, taking part in CAPS and working with the police, but none of it seemed to be making a dent in the area’s crime.

“Those who draw paychecks [while working in Austin], those who’ve profited while failing the community should be ashamed,” he said.

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