Chicago Police Dept. revamps community policing program with Twitter, texting, anonymous tips
by DON BABWIN
CHICAGO — Chicago Police on Monday rolled out changes to a community policing program they hope will turn residents' cell phones into crime fighting tools that can be used to provide anonymous tips to help officers catch criminals — and stem the kind of bloodshed that marred the recent holiday weekend.
During a news conference at which he was peppered with questions about a weekend that left 11 people shot to death and several dozen more wounded, Superintendent Garry McCarthy said residents will be able to come forward anonymously with tips and the police officers who get that information will never know where it originated.
McCarthy said the department's efforts to build trust in the community, starting with an emphasis on putting beat officers in neighborhoods so they can get to know the people they serve, are paying off. But McCarthy has repeatedly talked about the no-snitch street culture that often leaves people reluctant or unwilling to come forward with information. Monday's announcement came with an assurance that police will never know who the tip came from or even the tipsters' phone numbers.
"That is one of the concerns that we hear echoed across the communities when we talk to them about new technology," said Jonathan Lewin, managing deputy director of public safety information technology for the department.
McCarthy said tips can be routed to police officers in squad cars before they arrive at crime scenes.
Further, McCarthy, said people making 911 calls will be able to send photographs directly to police from their cell phones.
"If we have a picture of a criminal committing a crime and we are approaching the scene ... something like that would be an unbelievable assistance to our men and women," he said.
The pilot program that is being rolled out in three communities — two high crime areas on the city's West and South Sides and the trendy River North area — also will include a pilot Twitter program that will allow police to share information such as community alerts, missing persons reports with residents.
McCarthy stressed the department's tactics to reduce crime have been successful, pointing out that so far this year the 200 homicides is 76 fewer than there were for the same period last year, and that the number of shooting incidents has dropped to 909 compared to 1,193 for the same period last year.
He said the weekend shootings — including the wounding of two young children in two parks — prompted him to enact a non-technical strategy.
"You're going to see more enforcement of curfews in parks," he said. "Having people shot at 12:30 at night in a city park can be prevented by the police if we clear that park and get them out of the park."
McCarthy said he talked with Mayor Rahm Emanuel for more than an hour before the news conference.
"He wants to know what's going on, just like I want to know," he said.
Since last year, when the number of homicides in the city climbed past 500, Chicago has become a focus of the gun debate as it plays out nationally and in Illinois. On Monday, McCarthy found himself fielding questions about what might happen in the city once state lawmakers enact a law, as soon as Tuesday, that will allow residents to carry concealed weapons as they walk and drive the streets.
As he has done in the past, McCarthy said he was worried that the provision in the law that requires 16 hours training for a concealed carry permit is "absolutely inadequate."
"As sure as we're standing here, we're going to have tragedies," he said. "We have one playing our in Florida as we speak," he said, referring to the trial of a man charged in the shooting death of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin.
On New Haven Streets, A Return To Community Policing
by DENISE BUFFA
NEW HAVEN — — As Officer Cherelle Carr walked through a basketball court with her partner, she spotted a bruised boy in a group of kids and asked his friends to step away.
Gently holding both of his cheeks in her hands, as a mother would, Carr softly asked where he had gotten the marks on his face.
"I fell down the stairs," the boy said, trying to explain away the discoloration under his right eye.
"I fell on the basketball court," he said, attempting to explain the bruises on the left.
Carr stood still for a moment and let her hands down as her partner, Officer Lesley Billingslea, stood nearby. Then, Carr — who grew up in the neighborhood — opened the door for future contact.
"You see us around and you need to talk to us ... " Carr said, her voice trailing off, but the message clear.
She asked his name. Feeling safe, the boy readily gave it and walked away, bouncing the ball he had been holding.
Carr's interaction with the boy provides a glimpse into the department's return to community policing — a strategy that seeks to connect police to the community beyond the enforcement of laws.
New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman has brought back community policing to the Elm City. He calls it a philosophy — not a tactic.
"Behind every number is a name," he said. "Behind every statistic is a story."
Esserman was deputy chief of the New Haven Police Department in 1991, when Chief Nicholas Pastore launched the city's first community policing initiative. There were 34 murders in the city that year.
The numbers plummeted after cops started walking the beat again. But 20 years later, in 2011, after community policing had been de-emphasized as a departmental philosophy, the murder rate rose to 34 again.
"They said it wouldn't happen again, and it happened again," Esserman said.
That's when Mayor John DeStefano Jr. tapped Esserman — who was working as police chief in Providence — to return to New Haven. As the new chief, Esserman's mission was to bring community policing back to the streets.
"I think residents really like to see officers in their neighborhoods walking," DeStefano said. "I think they like to engage them and talk to them. ... I think what comes from that is a sense of relationship and trust so when there are violent or other inappropriate incidents in the neighborhood, it makes citizens more likely to talk and engage the police and say, 'Here's what's going on.'"
"We've seen dramatic drops in crime, in violent crime, the last two years," he added. "That's a good thing."
The chief boasts that the number of homicides in New Haven was cut in half from 34 in 2011 to 17 in 2012. He also touts an approximate 31 percent drop in non-fatal shootings — 133 to 92 — during that time.
"We're doing pretty good, but we have a long way to go," Esserman said.
Although the number of murders and non-fatal shootings dropped, the number of violent crimes overall rose 7 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to statistics provided by the New Haven Police Department. The number of robberies, aggravated assaults and rapes rose by 10 percent, 7 percent and 6 percent respectively, the statistics show.
The number of property crimes during that period also rose slightly, by 1 percent, according to the statistics. Of those, larceny rose 6 percent and burglary rose 4 percent.
But motor vehicle thefts plunged 24 percent during that time.
The number of crimes altogether — violent and property — increased 2 percent, from 8,183 in 2011 to 8,386 in 2012, the statistics show.
"Some things are up. Some things are down," Esserman said. "My focus, like a laser beam, is on violence."
Only One Weapon
Community policing is not the only weapon police have employed to combat crime. They credit the following with helping to bring the murder and shooting rates down:
Project Longevity, a statewide initiative aimed at building a partnership between community members, service organizations and law enforcement to deter homicides and shootings.
A shooting task force made up of New Haven police, state inspectors, state police and correction officers.
Weekly public meetings with police officers, prosecutors, probation and parole officers, and priests to help gauge progress.
As the department adds new recruits — 40 graduated this year and 27 are in the academy — all will be hitting the streets like Carr and Billingslea, both rookies. They've been on the force for a year — and on the streets for six months.
"You begin your career walking the beat, period, everyone. I walk a beat once a week," Esserman said.
And rookies have to stay on foot for a year or two before earning their way into cars. There's more to it than establishing contacts. Police officers who return to the same neighborhood every day on foot learn humility as opposed to power and arrogance, Esserman said.
"You don't have to love the New Haven Police Department. You just have to love your beat cop. ... We talk to people and people talk to us. It's not just about contacts. It's about learning humility and developing trust. You can't drive on by when you ain't in a car."
'You Have My Number'
As Carr, 23, and Billingslea, 31, walk the beat in District 6 — known as the Dixwell district — they greet the people on the street.
"How ya'll doin'?" Carr asks.
Those in the neighborhood pose the same question to the cops.
"Chillin', " Billlingslea says.
They walk to the East Rock Elks Lodge No. 141 on Webster Street, and several people in the community approach.
A trustee of the club, Bobby Wilson, asks if a woman can have a party there for her teen daughter. The officers tell him she may, but only if she hires an off-duty cop at a rate of $50 an hour as security. After all, other parties — involving gangs from different parts of the city — have gotten out of hand in the past.
"You have my number in your phone?" Billingslea asks, reciting the digits for the man to take down. His field training officer, Robert Hayden, recently got a telephone tip while he was on vacation that helped crack the high-profile beating of an elderly Yale professor.
"It's good to have them around," Wilson says, "It keeps things under control. Kids here act wild. ... Once they see a cop, they don't act up."
Another man confides that his son's friend has been living in his home for three weeks and refuses to leave. The officers tell him he needs to formally evict the young man.
"Let me know what happens," Billingslea says.
The rookies' commanding officer, Sgt. Sam Brown — the district manager — says that in his 17 years on the force, he's always done what's now called community policing. He's always gotten to know the public well enough for them to feel comfortable enough to call him when something happens.
"It always was because that's the way we police anyway. You get what I mean?" he said, "They can make it official, but you can't change my way of policing. It is community policing. You understand what I mean? We've always done that. We've always done that."
Soon, Brown is radioing the rookies to come to Orchard Street, where a house stands next to a lot. He explains that the cops, with the help of other city officials, recently dismantled a messy and noisy makeshift auto shop, towing away about a half dozen broken-down cars. As a result, men, women and children felt safe enough to reclaim their neighborhood — happily planting holly bushes and daylilies on the city land.
Lenora "Li'l Mama" Turner, 65, who heads the neighborhood block watch group, commended police.
"It was a fantastic job, well done ..." she said. "Without them, a lot of things wouldn't be taken care of."
Suddenly, there's a report on the radio of a man with a gun. He's wearing blue jeans and a gray T-shirt.
The partners — Carr, a naturally athletic 5-foot-tall woman who weighs 125 pounds, and Billingslea, an amateur boxer and bodybuilder who stands 5-foot-4 and weighs 165 pounds — start running in the direction of the suspect. Six blocks away, they stop a young man fitting the description. They place him against a wall. They frisk him, but come up empty-handed.
That wasn't the case a few nights earlier. It all started as a loitering complaint in front of a Dixwell Avenue mini-mart. When the rookies approached, the suspect took off running, saying he had to go because there was some kind of warrant out on him. The cops, fit and trim, chased down the big guy.
That night, Hayden saw the suspect throwing a gun on a roof during the chase. The weapon, an Italian-made .22-caliber revolver, was recovered. The cops took a gun off the streets safely and had reason to celebrate.
But perhaps even more amazing were the words of a woman after the incident unfolded.
"She said, 'Did you get that guy who threw the gun on the roof ... because I was going to tell you,'" Carr recalled.
The partners go to the police substation on Charles Street, where two passersby say they've heard the police department is hiring. Carr and Billingslea confirm the rumor and then start giving some tips about how to get on the job.
The two men say that, sadly, New Haven, where they were born and raised, has a reputation of being a crime-ridden city. But now that it's turning a corner, they want to be part of the change. They already seem to have a pretty good sense of community policing.
"You can't get a community to talk to you if you're bullying them around," said Larry Washington, 36, a paraprofessional in West Haven.
"That's what it's all about," said Jason Benjamin, 24, a housekeeper in Hamden. "It's a balance."
The partners start walking the beat again and make their way through Goffe Street Park, where Carr spots a young man holding what looks like a hand-rolled marijuana cigarette. The man says it's a beedi from India.
"I know what it looks like," the man says before agreeing to give her one so she can show her colleagues.
The partners are asked over the radio to proceed as backup to other officers who have arrested a woman on a warrant. She's charged with assault on a police officer and failing to appear in court, police say.
One of the cops recognized the woman from a wanted poster he saw around the department when he spotted her sitting on stairs at Henry and Orchard streets — the same corner where the first homicide of the year, the shooting of a market clerk, occurred. She was already seated in the back of a police cruiser when Carr and Billingslea arrived.
"Relly Rell, on the block!" a childhood acquaintance yelled to Carr from across the street.
Carr and Billingslea are dispatched to retrieve a sweater for the captured suspect, who is wearing a tank top and refuses to give her name. Since they're walking that way anyway, the partners stop briefly so Carr could chat with her old friend.
"She's doing her thing. I respect it," Lorraine Brown, 25, said. "She's a good one."