Faith-based groups will take the lead initiating good deeds in neighborhoods
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES By Michael Herman May 27, 2007
No matter where you live in the city, the Chicago Police Department's community policing program (CAPS) is one of the best and fastest ways to get connected to people and projects in your community.
CAPS holds at least 250 beat community meetings each month, one in almost every police beat in the city. In the thirty other beats, meetings happen every other month. These meetings provide regular opportunities to exchange information about neighborhood conditions and activity, identify and prioritize problems, and begin developing solutions. They are facilitated by beat officers and/or residents serving as beat facilitators. Officers from all three watches and a sergeant participate, as well as a wide variety of residents, activists, organizers, business owners and other community leaders.
Block Clubs and Churches
Block clubs are an important extension of the beat community meetings and problem solving. In 2006, the CAPS program trained resident leaders and helped establish 525 new block clubs throughout the city. Ricardo Contreras, CAPS Field Coordinator, says they'll establish hundreds more block clubs this year.
Block club training provides guidance on setting agendas, finding meeting locations, working on crime and safety issues, and doing long-range planning. "We try to connect them with a church or a bank, community venues, to have their meetings. It helps to have materials available, a coffeemaker, a chalkboard," says Contreras. "There are currently somewhere between 1500 and 2000 block clubs in the city. Some are very active, others lie more or less dormant, but are ready to activate quickly whenever problems arise."
Residents of high-rise buildings have a different kind of neighborhood experience, with different needs, concerns and resources, but the same potential for connecting and problem solving. CAPS supports these groups with "vertical" block clubs, adapting their training and support to leaders, establishing the community connections, and engaging these groups in the same kind of information exchange and problem solving as traditional block clubs.
Last year, the CAPS program focused on making more connections with pastors and churches throughout the city, creating a network of over 800 faith-based institutions that help spread alerts, organize community improvement projects, mobilize volunteers, and provide meeting space for block clubs and beat meetings.
Safe Summer Projects
Each year, CAPS runs a "Safe Summer" Project from June through Labor Day. Last summer, "100 Corners" targeted the most notorious corners with positive community action. "We put a block club on every corner, with a church partner. We did police roll calls, set up basketball hoops. Pastors led prayer services. Aldermen paid for refreshements. Residents led block clean-up efforts," says Contreras.
This year's Safe Summer Project, called "Acts of Kindness," will engage residents in community service events to benefit neighborhoods or individuals. Faith-based institutions are leading efforts to paint porches, clean-up vacant lots, plant flowers, assist seniors, or do other kind acts. CAPS Director of Court Advocacy, Stephanie Packard-Bell says "The focus is on groups of youth or adults doing kind acts together, rather than on individuals going out by themselves." CAPS will keep a calendar of scheduled events around the city.
Email Alerts and Virtual Block Clubs
Contreras says the internet has allowed CAPS to do much more than was envisioned when the program was first implemented in 1993. "Now we send neighborhood alerts by email. If someone gives us their email address at a beat meeting, an officer or community organizer is going to get that input into the system. When situations arise in the neighborhood, officers send alerts and they automatically go out to anyone who's signed up in that area," says Contreras. "We have alerts for businesses, too. When parades or demonstrations happen, for instance, an alert goes out about crowds, about parking restrictions or other changes. So people can be prepared."
Most recipients merely read these alerts, but some readers spring into action. Contreras tells the story of an attempted child abduction in the 16th District. "One woman resident who received the email alert, printed it out and took it to the local school. She got to the school before anyone there had even seen the news and before police could flyer the neighborhood. Every child went home with a copy of the news and instructions about staying safe." Community alerts are available via email citywide.
In the 13th District, Bucktown near Humboldt Park, officers are taking the email alert to a higher level. Members of a new "virtual" block club receive by email information that they used to get only by attending beat meetings. Monthly email updates include neighborhood crime statistics, organizing information, and even news of special meetings like an upcoming conference on youth obesity.
The best way to learn more is at your local beat meeting. Call 311, Chicago's non-emergency helpline to find out when and where your meeting happens, or contact the CAPS community organizer in your police district. The police website at cityofchicago.org/police has more about CAPS, community policing, and your beat. CivicFootprint?.org is a good place to see a map and crime statistics for your police beat.