Budget cuts out overtime pay for CAPS meetings

CHICAGO Community and religious leaders say they fear the move will cripple community policing efforts if the officers who know firsthand about the neighborhoods they patrol are no longer involved.

The city says it's looking for ways to be more efficient with less and that the cuts will not impact the CAPS program.

The premise behind CAPS is that the community and police know and trust each other. Anti-violence marches may underscore the mission, but it's what happens on the street and in the monthly beat meetings that is the bread and butter of CAPS.

Because of the city's financial crunch, it will no longer pay overtime to off-duty beat officers to attend those monthly meetings and other CAPS functions. On-duty supervisors will attend those meetings, but some are concerned that, without the actual hands-on beat officers there, something gets lost in the translation.

"It's the indispensable part of community policing," said Rev. Marshall Hatch, "and I don't see how we can still say we have community policing without the beat officers interacting with the community in those beat meetings."

The CAPS beat meeting overtime cut comes at a time when the superintendent has emphasized the need for new vehicles, new weaponry, and so-called "battle-dress" to discourage crime.

"It almost sends a subliminal message that the superintendent doesn't take CAPS very seriously," said Rev. Ira Acree.

Police say nothing could be further from the truth.

"Sometimes people hear things. This is Chicago. We know the rumor mill. But if anything, we're trying to establish more and foster more and better relationships with the community," said Vance Henry, CAPS director.

Sergeants and lieutenants will now attend the CAPS beat meetings. It is, Henry says, an important evolution brought on by the need to do more with less.

"We'll now have lieutenants and sergeants in the meetings," said Henry. "We believe this will increase the efficiency of our meetings, and at the end of the day, these are problem-solving meetings. The presence of the lieutenants and sergeants will encourage problems to be solved."

Some community activists say they hope that is the case, but they remain skeptical, arguing that with the uptick in the murder rate as well as other violent crimes, now is not the time to cut any police funding. But the city's budget hole is such that it can't be ignored, and this is a plan that CAPS designers hope will not damage, but improve communication and trust.

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