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Police Mon Nov 05 2012

The Latest Crime-Fighting Strategy: Stop CAPS

The Chicago Police Department is ending CAPS.

Also known as the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy. The Chicago Reader reports the city will be slowly zeroing out the budget for CAPS over the next year according to the recent city budget testimony from Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. This announcement came shortly before Chicago hit another grim milestone in a particularly bloody year of violence in the city. The homicide total for this year, with two more months to go, has just passed the total for all of 2011. Though homicide has been down for October, it's too early to tell if Chicago has finally found the right formula to reduce the murder epidemic. All year we've been told by Mayor Emanuel, McCarthy and other city officials that new policing strategies and policies are working in spite of the yearlong violence. With a constant media cycle reporting on daily shootings, it's difficult to say if we are in fact, making progress.

The Chicago Police Department describes CAPS as "innovative because it brings the police, the community, and other City agencies together to identify and solve neighborhood crime problems, rather than simply react to their symptoms after the fact. Problem solving at the neighborhood level is supported by a variety of strategies, including neighborhood-based beat officers; regular Beat Community Meetings involving police and residents; extensive training for both police and community; more efficient use of City services that impact crime; and new technology to help police and residents target crime hot spots."

In theory, this sounds like a pretty good program -- one that Chicago might not want to lose. Moreover, in practice -- there has been some research showing its effectiveness. For all the setbacks CPD has had in its fight on crime, it certainly hasn't been complacent. Cutting CAPS is one of a number of strategies the CPD has tried this year, such as targeting gang hangouts, targeting specific gangs and gang members, and disbanding specialized units to put more officers on the street. Even recently, Alderman Brendan Reilly suggested that businesses hire off-duty cops for added security downtown. Ideally, Chicago wouldn't have to decide which of several potentially good programs and policing strategies to fund. But the truth is that resources are very finite right now. Perhaps the conversation we are having about which strategy is most effective, should also discuss strategies to acquire more resources. More cops, more community programs, and more dialogue about how to get both. There is a litany of complex social, economic and cultural factors that can be analyzed in the broad trend of the city's appalling crime rate. As such, there isn't a simple solution. But perhaps we can start with a simple plea for more resources.

The police have a very difficult job. Notwithstanding the fact that we have had extensive coverage of Anthony Abbate, Jr.'s trial on Mechanics, we understand that most Chicago cops are the good guys. Equipped with adequate support, they can get the job done. They performed admirably during the NATO summit (including Superintendent McCarthy). Part of the reason they did so well is that they had federal support and assistance from other police organizations. When NATO arrived, those officers were sufficiently equipped to manage the challenge in front of them.

NATO only happened for a weekend, and we have year-round issues. The city also doesn't exactly have a surplus of money to spend. It would be hard to find a city program or a service that isn't feeling the pinch of our economic realities. This means that if we're going to solve this murder problem, we have some tough choices to make. The resources needed to stop the violence are substantive, complex, and they need to come from somewhere. Our taxes are already among the highest in the nation, and it's a tough sell to convince the public to pay even more, especially in the midst of a slowly improving, but shaky economic climate. But if Chicago wants to get dealt a better hand for public safety, we may have to put more skin in the game.

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