Changes ahead for Chicago's CAPS program

September 17, 2010 4:48:27 AM PDT
A cornerstone of Chicago's community-based policing program is in for some changes following an anticipated loss of police officers, who will be replaced by civilians.

The CAPS program has been hailed as an effective anti-violence measure in some of Chicago's toughest neighborhoods. But police officials say many of the officers assigned to CAPS should be reassigned to the streets.

CAPS stands for Community Alternative Policing Strategy, a program that was designed to build trust between neighborhoods and the police officers that serve them in a way that was seen as a step up from the traditional beat cop approach. But tight budgets and a sense the program wasn't working as it was originally intended have city officials saying it needs to be changed.

From 2001, to more recently, the mayor has rallied support for CAPS -- an administrative approach to community policing that saw CPD uniformed and civilian personnel assigned to specific neighborhoods to build relationships, all in the name enhancing trust and combating crime ahead of time.

"CAPS started as a program of community people and citizens. It got deeply involved in the police department. I think over 200 police officers or more were assigned to CAPS over years, lieutenants and sergeants and patrolman. So, all of a sudden it became a civilian thing, it went into a police department. That was not the concept," Mayor Daley said Thursday.

In the wake of criticism of a Chicago police superintend dent who has shifted resources to mobile strike forces over traditional policing, the changes envisioned for CAPS as laid out in letter sent to the program's district advisory committees have some worried.

"We have individuals who are working in community organizations out here, but when you got a policeman that you can talk to and that policeman can relate directly to whatever is going on in the community, then that puts a different tenor on it. So, I would like for that person to continuously be a police officer," said 28th Ward Alderman Ed Smith.

Officer Ronald Holt runs the CAPS program, and the mayor thinks he can manage the "overload" of uniformed officers now in CAPS.

Holt lost his son to gun violence in 2007.

"We found out in some districts that eight, 10 or 12 people assigned to CAPS. And, again, Ron Holt is a policeman and has taken over that responsibility, and he wants to bring it back to its original belief," said Mayor Daley.

Those who work to stop violence before it starts are not necessarily against the possible changes.

"Because that is what it is all about, it is about community doing the policing, and then it is not about locking everybody up it is about trying to problem-solve in the community," said Ceasefire's Tio Hardiman.

CAPS started in 1993 and has been seen, according to criminologists at Northwestern University, as a model program for the nation in terms of community policing.

Those academics say what seems to work, especially for CAPS, is the broad awareness of the program.

CPD held a press conference Thursday night to discuss the CAPS program.

"I would like to see the CAPS program continue just the way it is and not move the resources," said 9th District Commander David Jarmusz, "kinda like what I'm hearing from the various citizens."


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