Anthony Escamilla 25th Dist. Commander

The New York University School of Law’s Policing Project is working with the Chicago Police Department to develop a more community-centric approach to policing and it’s being field-tested in the West Side’s 25th District. 

The Chicago Neighborhood Policing Initiative is designed to give residents a say in how they are policed and get police officers to actually interact with the community more. Although it officially launched toward the end of January, the Policing Project and CPD spent several months laying the groundwork. 

Barry Friedman, the director of the Policing Project, explained that the original idea was to do pilots in two districts — one on the West Side and one on the South Side — but because of issues with dispatching, they decided to stick to one. Several West Side districts were considered, but the choice of the 25th District came down to CPD’s top brass. Friedman said the pilot is made up of two main components: community engagement and operations. 

“We’ve been working very hard with community groups and community members to help them get together and talk about policing issues and have begun a series of meetings with the district commander and command staff about policing,” Friedman said. “It will be an ongoing process with district command [communicating] with community members, community leaders and community organizations.”

That input is then used to develop the district’s policing strategies. The organizational component is more complex. 

Whereas before, officers had to respond to a call no matter what they were doing, now they respond to calls only if they are related to crimes and issues within their beats. 

“They stay in their beats and they’re given some time off from the radio every day,” Friedman said. “They get to know the community, just get to know folks.”

The other major change is the establishment of District Coordinating Officers. Each DCO supervises three beats within the district. 

“DCOs’ jobs is to spend all their time working with community members to find out the needs of community members and to meet those needs,” Friedman said.

For example, during the 25th District community policing plan meeting on March 13 – part of a separate city-wide community policing initiative – an Austin resident mentioned that he was member of a block club. 

The DCO at the table said that he would be happy to attend one of their meetings, adding that one of his responsibilities was to get the ground-level sense of crime-related issues that affect the residents. 

During the same meeting, 25th District commander Anthony Escamilla said that he appreciated having beat officers and DCOs would bring consistency, which, he felt, would improve police-community relations.

“You know they’re always going to be on that beat,” he said. “We want to build trust. We’re going to rely on you and you’re going to rely on you.”

According to a Jan. 25 press release, as part of the pilot, the 25th district set up “rapid response units” to “ensure that all emergency calls continue to be addressed.”

Friedman explained that much of the pilot is based on the work the Policing Project has already done in New York City. Authorities are still gathering data to measure the pilot’s effectiveness. 

“There’s a group at Northwestern University that’s doing an assessment with us, so it’s a little early in the process,” Friedman said. “At some point soon, we would start to collect information about whether CPD is keeping officers in their beats and how many meetings are attended. We’re trying to get a sense of how this is working as we go.”

He said that he expects the assessment to be completed sometime later this spring or this summer. If it goes well, the pilot would be expanded to other districts. 

Friedman said that he couldn’t speak to what those other districts would be, but he said that the ultimate goal is to implement the pilot’s changes city-wide.

While it is too early to judge whether the pilot is successful, Friedman said that the feedback he’s gotten so far has been encouraging.


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...