C.A.P.S. program may receive more funding and staff after years of decline
November 2, 2017

Photo courtesy Smith Park Advisory Council
Members of the Chicago Police Department’s 12th District C.A.P.S. office participate in local events such as the Smith Park Memorial Day Parade.

By Igor Studenkov

After years of declining investment and virtually no staff growth, the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (C.A.P.S.) program may finally see some improvements.

In his budget proposal for the 2018 Fiscal Year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for putting $3 million into “enhancing community policing efforts.” While the way the money is distributed is not entirely clear, the City will spend about $1.5 million to hire more C.A.P.S. community organizers, youth service coordinators, and domestic violence advocates and generally increase spending on positions related to community relations.

The C.A.P.S. program began in 1993 to improve communication and cooperation between police and the communities they serve. Beat meetings serve as a venue where officers and residents can talk about local crime issues and figure out ways to address them. C.A.P.S. officers also attend community events and meetings to further these goals.

Throughout the 1990s, the C.A.P.S. program was successful, but throughout the 2000s, the City cut the program’s budget, even as the overall budget of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) increased.

In January 2012, Emanuel announced that instead of ultimately being run from police headquarters, C.A.P.S. would be split between the police districts, with each district commander getting the power to decide how to spend the money and what C.A.P.S. programs the district would run.

The change was billed as a way to revitalize C.A.P.S., but funding continued to decline.

Inconsistent outreach

Furthermore, the way the program was implemented varied from district to district, with some
districts doing more community outreach than others. In addition, the extent of the outreach did not necessarily correlate with how much money each district received.

Patricia Mocco served as C.A.P.S. facilitator for Beat 1224 in the West Loop for 12 years. She left the position in April 2017, when she moved to East Garfield Park. Mocco told Gazette Chicago that, in her years in the role, she had definitely noticed changes, and not for the better.

First, there was the matter of meeting frequency.

“C.A.P.S. meetings went from monthly to every other month, which is awful and not very helpful to residents,” Mocco said.

Another downside, she said, was that many regular beat officers used to attend C.A.P.S. meetings, but “all of a sudden” they stopped. Mocco believes it was because those visits no longer qualified for paid overtime.

Mocco also cited police turnover as a problem, mentioning that she worked with “terrific officers” who were not around anymore – although she was quick to note that she was not sure whether that was due to budget cuts or officers simply retiring, being promoted, or moving to other positions on their own.

She noted that she felt that the effectiveness of the program depended on the police officers involved.

As a facilitator, she said, “I made C.A.P.S. work for me and my neighborhood the best I could, no matter what the issues were. Budgets or no budgets, the C.A.P.S. officers we had were very good.”

In her new community, she finds that relations with the police are not as good as in the West Loop.

“Now that I am in District 11, I find that my neighbors feel 911 and 311 do not respond,” Mocco said. “They are not happy.”

She added that she was planning to attend her local C.A.P.S. meetings to see for herself whether the impression is accurate.

This reporter has attended a number of Ald. Jason Ervin’s (28th Ward) community meetings in East Garfield Park and Tri-Taylor. While 11th District Commander Kevin Johnson is a regular fixture at those meetings, updating residents on latest crime issues and answering questions, C.A.P.S. officers’ presence is more sporadic. During the Oct. 10 Garfield Park community meeting, C.A.P.S. officers were scheduled to speak, but never showed up.

Budget analysis

One of the issues with analyzing C.A.P.S. staffing is that in examining City and police budgets, it is not always clear which positions are part of C.A.P.S. and which are not. Gazette Chicago focused on positions that were explicitly marked as C.A.P.S. positions and community relations positions that saw increases under the FY2018 budget proposal.

The analysis found that the amount the City allocated for the salaries of the C.A.P.S. director and C.A.P.S. coordinators, area coordinators, community organizers, youth service coordinators and domestic violence advocates decreased every year between 2013 and 2016, when it increased by $94,118. The overall number of positions dropped in 2014 from 31 to 18, rose to 30 the following year, stayed at 30 in 2016, and rose to 31 in 2017. In the 2014 budget, the youth service coordinator positions were eliminated, and the number of C.A.P.S. community organizers was cut from 24 to 13. In 2015, the youth coordinator positions were restored and the C.A.P.S. community organizers total was brought up to 23.

Meanwhile, concerns about community-police relations came back into limelight as the video recording of the shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald was released. The tape showed that the account of the officers on the scene – that he was shot because he lunged at officer Jason Van Dyke with a knife – was clearly false, setting off days of protests.

The following year, the Chicago City Council approved an overhaul of the way the City investigates police misconduct, phasing out the Independent Police Review Authority and replacing it with Civilian Office of Police Accountability. CPD was given funding to hire more officers, with special emphasis on recruiting from majority-black and majority-Hispanic communities. The C.A.P.S. program, however, did not see much change.

Gazette Chicago has compared the funding for all of the positions listed under the Community Relations division – both ones clearly marked as C.A.P.S. positions and ones that were more ambiguous – and found that the funding was increased only by $19,724, going up from $3,767,896 to $3,787,620 from FY 2016 to FY 2017. The FY2017 budget proposal listed two more C.A.P.S. community organizers, one fewer deputy director, and one fewer police officer than the FY2016 budget.

Photo courtesy Chicago Police
Schools obtain a visit from “Officer Friendly,” a police officer who provides information for the children, through the C.A.P.S. program.

‘Foundation of trust’

During the Oct. 18 City Council meeting, Emanuel outlined the priorities for his proposed budget. He did not mention the C.A.P.S. program by name, but did emphasize the importance of community policing, which he called “a cornerstone of the Chicago Police Department,” Emanuel said. “It is built on the foundation of trust.”

The mayor also announced that he appointed 15th District Commander Dwayne Betts as the new deputy chief of the C.A.P.S. program due to his work in Austin community area.

The City’s budget proposal overview, which provides the explanation for the major expenditures and changes, does not mention C.A.P.S., although it does mention that it includes additional $3 million in order to “to enhance community policing efforts, including growing the dedicated community policing staff by 30 additional community relations coordinators, organizers, and advocates, expanding community policing training, and enhancing district advisory councils and youth district advisory councils.”

A look at the proposed budget recommendations document – which includes the actual breakdown of how much money goes where – reveals a few more details. All of the positions that were previously grouped under the CPD Community Relations division have been moved to the newly created Office of Community Policing. In addition, as the overview suggests, more positions have been added in the process, including 25 C.A.P.S. community organizers, three youth service coordinators, four domestic violence advocates, and one deputy director. The increase was especially dramatic in domestic violence advocates, with the number of officers going from one to five. At the same time, the number of police officers went from five in the Community Relations Division to four in the Office of Community Policing. Several existing positions received salary increases.

Between the salary increases and new positions, the Office of Community Policing’s budget was higher than Community Relations Division’s, going from $3,787,620 to $5,306,333 from FY 2017 to FY 2018, a difference of $1,518,713.

The City of Chicago press office and CPD Office of News Affairs did not respond to requests for comment regarding the details of the budget proposal’s impact on C.A.P.S. However, during the Oct. 19 Chicago Police Review Board meeting, Kevin Navarro, the department’s first deputy superintendent, said that community-police relations go beyond any one program.

“It’s not a program in the department – it’s a philosophy,” he said. “We want officers to get out of their cars and mingle.”

Mocco said she thought that hiring more C.A.P.S. community organizers would help – though she reiterated that, in the end, C.A.P.S. was only as good as the officers and civilians who take part in it. Just as importantly, there need to be tangible results.

“Many people feel C.A.P.S. is a waste of time, because no action gets taken in many cases unless you have someone like me, who does not take no for an answer and works with the community and CPD to solve issues,” she said. “People have to believe that coming to a meeting and giving input is meaningful and will help with issues in their community. They need to feel like they are helping. Then they need to see action taken.”

For more information, log on to https://home.chicagopolice.org/get-involved-with-caps/. For C.A.P.S. information pertaining to local areas, see page 26.