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6th District Residents Attempt to ‘Take Back the Streets’

Violence in Chicago is nothing new, and as the hot summer months are upon us crime has escalated and the Far South Side is the “hot spot” of illegal activity.

The Chicago Police Department has said that they cannot alleviate the situation alone, and are looking for assistance from the community. This summer, much like others in the past, the police are looking to the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy program, a 15-year old program that provides a unique outlet to Chicago communities.

“CAPS is about the best thing that happened to the community,” said Willie Morrow, a lifelong resident of Gresham and beat facilitator of the 6th police district.

CAPS, a problem solving tool that opens communication and partnerships with the community, has consistently had the support and input from communities. The 6th district has been an active participant of CAPS, but that hasn’t stopped violent crime in the neighborhood which is leading to residents questioning its effectiveness.

The 6th district has close to 100,000 residents, which has undoubtedly been a contributing factor to violence in the area. The district, nine miles big, has 310 officers to patrol the streets. And when the public housing projects were vacated nearly five years ago, there was an influx of residents relocating to the neighborhoods.

“We can’t arrest our way out of the situation,” said Rich Wooten, officer and CAPS liaison for the 6th district.

He said instead, CAPS offers a variety of programs and services to the residents each month. Residents can get involved in by attending any of the events including, crime prevention seminars, family service resources, record expungements and job fairs. The programs are not exclusive to the 6th district, but all are oriented toward helping the community and building a symbiotic bond.

“This helps CAPS bring down crime and help the people at the same time,” said Theresa Hubbard, a Gresham resident and organizer for the CAPS jobs fairs.

The 6th district jobs fairs have become so popular that they were forced to relocate to a bigger venue. On May 20, the job fairs were moved to the AFC Center, which has more space and is more practical, Hubbard said. She added that at last month’s job fair there were over 1,000 people, the largest turnout yet, lined around the block to get in contact with the 38 vendors.

Chicago has 25 police districts divided into 279 beats. CAPS has monthly beat meetings to share information, discuss strategies and problem-solve. All beat residents are encouraged to attend – participation is calculated by attendance.

“We got this opportunity, don’t let it go because what’s better than knowing who your officer is?” said Beverly Williams, CAPS community organizer.

Williams started working in CAPS when it was a pilot program funded by federal grants in 1993.  After proven successful in its five test districts, the 6th being one, the program was adopted by the Chicago Police Department and expanded to all 25 districts. Since 1995, CAPS has evolved greatly because of community involvement, Wooten said.

In the past the police department would primarily run the two-hour beat meetings, that has since changed due to its ineffectiveness, Morrow said.

“We’d get nothing done,” said Morrow, who’s been beat 614 facilitator since 1995.

Morrow and the CAPS office joined forces in 1998, and implemented a new strategy which included implementing an agenda and systematic order of running the new one-hour meetings.

At each meeting, residents and the police department bring forth new business, and remedy old, unfinished business. Each month’s crime data, as well as maps that include where crimes were committed are provided. The meetings are the essential effective component of CAPS, Wooten said.

“It creates a better understanding of the police department and what they’re doing for the community,” said Mary Castle-Enyard, co-facilitator of beat 614.

There are 12 beats in the 6th district, and although community participation has been increasing, crime is still prevalent.

“We’re not problem solving enough,” said Williams.

Problems are solved block-by-block. Williams said knowing your neighbor is crucial in crime prevention.

She said that a clean, orderly block deters criminals while uncut grass with vacant buildings is a breeding ground for illegal activity. She added that generally when a crime occurs it’s usually because the offender knows somebody on that block.

“The only way to solve problems in the neighborhood is you got to reach out to your neighbors,” said Morrow.

In 2007, Williams and Morrow started a new strategy in the 6th district – total block organization.  They gathered polling sheets that had the names and addresses for everyone in beat 614; then four teams of two spent roughly four hours a day knocking on the doors of the 120 blocks in the beat.

“This is something that’s never been done in CAPS before,” Williams said, although she has been advocating it for a while.

The teams introduce themselves, and talk about the importance of getting involved with CAPS. Most residents were unfamiliar with their neighbors, and there were a handful that had been living on the same block for over 30 years, Castle-Enyard said.

“You can’t be in jail in your own home, you have to get involved,” she said.

As a result of the new program, Morrow organized 60 block representatives who report to him weekly. The widespread intelligence gathered has assisted in prevention, and kept crime low in beat 614. The program also increased the attendance at CAPS meetings.

Community involvement is even more instrumental after budget cuts have scaled down police resources, Wooten said.

“Community members have to step up their game and help the police department take back their streets,” he said.

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