Chicago police look to revamp CAPS
Little data on whether program to involve community is effective at fighting crime
by Lolly Bowean
It was the shootings, break-ins and wild behavior of squatters who occupied a vacant house on her block that drove Delores Stokes to start attending her district's Community Alternative Policing Strategy meetings.
But after sitting through an hour of talking, lecturing and complaining, the West Garfield Park woman left the gathering feeling frustrated, and decided not to attend again.
"Do you know what connects me to the police? The alarm system on my house," said Stokes, 55, adding that she doesn't know any of her local officers personally. "I don't know them. I don't know why crime isn't being addressed. I don't how crime is being addressed.
"Maybe it's that the community doesn't know what their plan is … if they have a plan."
Shootings and slayings continue to plague Chicago, even after Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said they would restructure the city's long-standing CAPS program to better combat violence.
January started off violently, with 42 homicides — the highest number for that month since 2002, police statistics show. But violence has waned some, with 54 homicides for 2013 as of Feb. 20, compared with 52 by that date last year.
The effort to remake CAPS may sound familiar to Chicagoans — police and city officials have for years pushed and pulled back on the program, which some experts say has never proven to be effective at fighting crime.
When it was conceived, the CAPS program was to fight crime by partnering police officers with concerned residents. The idea was that residents would get to know their local beat facilitators and feel more comfortable reporting crime and working with police to secure vacant buildings, punish irresponsible landlords and push troublemakers off corners.
But in the nearly 20 years that it's been around, the project has proven a mixed bag, both praised and harshly criticized. Some have said CAPS helped bridge a gap between police officers and residents in some Chicago communities. Others say the program is ineffective and provides a forum for complaining, but little else.
"Nobody has been able to determine (CAPS') effectiveness," said Robert Lombardo, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Loyola University who studied the program. "The research has been sketchy.
"The broad question is 'Can CAPS reduce crime?' The school is still out on that," he said.
Throughout the tenure of CAPS, Chicago officials have touted it as a valuable part of crime-fighting strategy. But at times, while saying the program was of value, officials have shifted the focus away from the program and redirected funding.
In 2008, a time when homicides in Chicago were outpacing those in bigger cities like New York and Los Angeles, former Mayor Richard Daley slashed $1.5 million from the CAPS implementation office's $5 million budget. And in 2010, then police Superintendent Jody Weis took heat for reassigning some CAPS officers from administrative positions to street duty.
Most recently, McCarthy announced he is changing the way his office will run the program. Now police district commanders will be in charge of tailoring CAPS to fit their communities, McCarthy said. Until this year, the program was run from police headquarters.
"We realized over the years, the community engagement has waned," said police Chief of Patrol Joe Patterson, who helps oversee the program. "There has been a decrease in participation at beat meetings … we're trying to reinvigorate CAPS and get more residents on board with us. With the community's help, we can reduce crime."
Along with allowing commanders to revamp the programs to their needs, authorities plan to change how they will evaluate whether the program is working. But just how those evaluations will work is still being developed, officials said.
"I wouldn't say accountability was lacking in the past," Patterson said. "It was managed in a different way."
Determining the program's effectiveness is "an interesting challenge," Patterson said. "There is no barometer to measure community engagement. We can't base it solely on an increase of beat meeting attendance. … The independent stories from the citizens of the community being better … that is our overall measure of success."
Although Emanuel has said the CAPS program was "bogged down by bureaucracy," there is reason to continue to use it, experts say. In some communities, the CAPS program has helped change how residents relate to police and resulted in good public relations.
"People felt they got access to the police," Lombardo said. "It also helped police by reminding them that they need to be integrated with the community. Community policing raised the idea that not only are you crime fighters, but you are a part of the community and you need to communicate with them."
COPS in Schools Grants Would Make Comeback Under GOP-Proposed Legislation
Shelby Township's U.S. Rep. Candice Miller has signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation that would reinstate the federal COPS in Schools grant program to the tune of $30 million a year.
by Jenny Whalen
A group of Republican legislators, including Shelby Township's U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, is breathing new life into a Clinton-era grant program designed to support community policing in an effort to combat school violence.
The COPS in Schools grant program premiered under President Bill Clinton in April 1999, and awarded more than $753 million during its six-year existence to help local law enforcement agencies hire 6,500 school resource officers to “engage in community policing in and around primary and secondary schools,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
On Feb. 15, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) introduced H.R. 751, also called The Protect America's Schools Act, in Congress. The legislation would revitalize the COPS grant program to the tune of $30 million per year.
Miller, a Republican serving Michigan's 10th congressional district, which includes Shelby Township, announced that she would co-sponsor the legislation on Monday.
“The Newtown, Connecticut tragedy was a heinous act that calls all of us to action to prevent such senseless violence in the future,” Miller said in a statement. “While some have attempted to focus this debate on actions that would not have prevented Newtown and would restrict the constitutional rights of law abiding citizens, I believe the focus of our efforts must be on what is most important – actually protecting our children.”
“To accomplish this goal I have signed on as a co-sponsor of the Protect America's Schools Act which would reinstate the Cops in Schools program …”
The original grant program provided a maximum federal contribution of up to $125,000 per officer position for approved salary and benefit costs over a three-year grant period. Any remaining costs were to be paid by local agencies.
The proposed legislation, if passed, would award up to $30 million a year in grants.
Funding for this program would be offset by taking unspent funds from other federal agencies and not add to the federal deficit, Miller said.
The bill has been sent to the House Committee on Appropriations for review.
In the meantime, Shelby Township will continue its own “community policing” program implemented by Police Chief Roland Woelkers several weeks ago.
Under this new initiative, Shelby Township officers are assigned to a specific patrol area where they are required to make direct contact with schools, businesses and senior centers. The initiative has also assigned a second liaison officer to work in elementary school buildings specifically.
In other efforts to increase school security, Utica Community Schools' board of education approved $350,000 in January to purchase security camera equipment that, combined with an audio component and latch-release function, will allow main office personnel to control the entry of visitors to elementary and middle school buildings.
The district's high schools currently feature security cameras and visitors are either greeted at the main entrance or directed through the main office prior to entering the core area of the school. Full-time security officers also staff all Utica high schools.
Installation of these additional security components was due to begin once the necessary materials became available.
Global Tweet-a-Thon to Connect Police Agencies
by Sarah Rich
Next month police agencies around the world will connect via Twitter to participate in a 24-hour Tweet-a-thon in an effort to create awareness about police work.
The Global Police Tweet-a-thon, scheduled for March 22, starting at 8 a.m., is being led by Lauri Stevens, founder of LAwS Communications. Police agencies interested in participating should register for the event by submitting their agency name, contact information and time zone to Stevens.
She said her goal by hosting this event is to try to bring attention to police work overall and the use of social media by law enforcement.
"We hope it opens their minds to the possibilities with social media,” Stevens said in an email. “But I think the bigger goal is the message we hope to send to non-law enforcement that their police officers are up to speed with social media, and that they should use social media to talk with police officers and to be stewards of public safety.”
So far, nearly 80 agencies have agreed to participate, including the Mesa County, Colo., Sheriff's Office. As the event date approaches, registered participants will continue to be logged on the event's global map.
“The Mesa County Sheriff's Office hopes to share a small piece of western Colorado with the world and highlight the positive aspects of law enforcement,” said Heather Benjamin, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Department, in a statement. “In addition, we look forward to partnering with law enforcement globally through social media. Exciting times!”