Chicago police districts throughout the city held public meetings in March to gather resident input on their various community policing plans.
Each district will hold two meetings — one to get the initial input from residents and one, scheduled some time in April, to get resident feedback on the proposed plans. During the first meeting, residents were asked what they wanted the police to focus on and how the relationship between the police and the community can be improved.
The plans are part of a series of reforms outlined in the 2017 Chicago Police Superintendent’s Community Policing Advisory Panel. Among other things, it recommended that each police district develop its own local community policing strategies.
Those strategies should work to achieve six overarching goals: Getting the police to engage with the community in ways that residents see as “constructive and beneficial” to them; building “relationships of trust” between police and the minority communities; encouraging community members to work with the police and the city to address quality of life and crime issues; tackling problems that impact communities’ overall health; implementing principles of restorative justice; and actively working to address trauma experienced by the victims of crime and the community as a whole.
The report recommended that any plans that departments develop should have community input. During a March 15 meeting held for the 25th District at Grace and Peace Church, 1856 N. LeClaire Ave., residents were split into groups around tables and invited to respond to three questions. The idea was to have a discussion, with note takers jotting down ideas that emerged in the process. For each question, participants were asked to switch tables. Participants were encouraged to speak about their own experiences rather than something they heard from others.
Twenty-fifth District Commander Anthony Escamilla encouraged all attendees to speak their mind.
“During the first round, we talked about what you think are issues in your community and how we can come together to solve those problems individually, block-by-block and city-wide,” Escamilla said. “It’s really important that we put together a good plan.”
Most attendees were people who are already involved in community policing in some capacity or another. Ed Stanford, a CAPS community organizer who served as a meeting facilitator, made a reference to attendees being “hand-chosen by the officers in the 25th District.”
For the first question, attendees were asked what are the key problems they would like the police to address. For the second question, the residents were asked what they would like to see happen in order to deepen the relationship between the police and the community.
One of the recurring comments at that table was that there were instances when police seemed angry for seemingly no reason, which made conflicts worse.
The police officers in the group noted that they have stressful jobs, which cause them to lash out, which they felt residents don’t understand. They argued that body cameras would address the accountability concerns.
The third question asked what community institutions they wanted the police officers to be involved in. The overall consensus from the table was that they should have a bigger presence in schools, especially elementary schools. They also wanted officers to hold more regular events and make regular visits in parks and businesses.
“The common theme is that officers should be interacting more with people instead of [just] chasing down perps,” said Mark McNear, a CAPS facilitator “Going to block clubs, coming to our schools, spending time in the community.”
Deondre Rutues, who ran for 37th Ward alderman in the Feb. 26 election, serves as a community ambassador for the 25th District neighborhood policing pilot. He said that the meeting could be helpful.
“I feel it’s important and very helpful for our community to bridge the gap,” he said. “Those things can only help strengthen that.”