Garbagemen and Lawyers Are Crimebusters in Chicago
All city offices join in community policing, in broadest municipal effort to reduce crime.
CHICAGO — The apartment building in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood had become a haven for gangs, drug dealers, and other troublemakers.
The seven-story structure was falling apart, tenants weren't paying rent, and the landlord had lost control. In the first six months of the year, the police made 100 arrests in the immediate area, but crime continued.
Then Chicago's community-policing program took over. Nearby residents, the police, and the local alderman worked with other city departments to make a clean sweep of the building. In the end, the landlord handed over the building's keys to the police so the city could find a new landlord to manage the apartments better.
This teamwork approach - involving no fewer than five city agencies ranging from building inspection to human services - has lifted Chicago's community-policing program to one of the top in the country.
"In other cities, community policing is just the police department," says Wesley Skogan, a Northwestern University professor and author of "Community Policing, Chicago Style." "Here you have all other city departments working with police."
A change in one year
City leaders point to this strategy as one of the reasons murder and robbery rates here dropped 7.7 percent and sexual assaults fell 12.5 percent in the first five months of 1997 compared with the same period last year.
In many cities, municipal departments see community policing as a drain on their own priorities, says Robert Friedmann, chairman of the criminal justice department at Georgia State University in Atlanta. But Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley gave city departments no choice.
"The mayor told them to do it," Mr. Skogan says.
That's not to say Chicago has the only promising approach. Fort Worth, Texas, boasts active community patrols, Boston puts probation officers on the street with police teams, Seattle brings the police and other city departments together in storefront centers, and New York and Houston move police trailers around to crime hot spots, Skogan says.
Some smaller cities such as Cincinnati, Madison, Wis., Salt Lake City, and Santa Ana, Calif., use approaches similar to Chicago's.
But so far no other city is using the team approach on the same large scale as Chicago. "A lot of cities are doing it to some degree, but it's not as well organized as the Chicago example," says Lawrence Travis, a criminal justice professor at the University of Cincinnati and a co-author of "Policing: A Balance of Forces."
Chicago has set up a system to push city offices to help. Beat officers fill out service forms when residents spot a problem. The police fax the forms every evening to City Hall, where they are distributed to the proper departments. If the department doesn't respond, a city computer flags the complaint until it gets finished.
People in the Northwest Austin neighborhood on Chicago's West Side find the strategy is working, says Irma Ford, an activist with the Northwest Austin Council. When a woman was raped in an abandoned building, residents and the police worked with the building department to get the empty structure torn down.
No broken bulbs
In addition to tackling the big problems, local residents work with the police to end annoyances that can start to bring a neighborhood down, whether it's abandoned cars, broken streetlights, or rowdy bars.
"By getting that streetlight fixed, it ups the police's credibility that they can get things done," says Thomas Byrne, commander of the Rogers Park police district.
Chicago's approach has had its doubters.
"The police themselves didn't think it was going to work and thought it was a political ploy," Skogan says.
But the city changed its training and supervision, he says, to make certain officers understand community policing is part of their jobs.
Community policing also had to overcome decades of mistrust that had built up between the police and some residents, especially in African-American communities, Ms. Ford says. But now the police and residents talk to each other.
In Rogers Park, people are still pointing to the crime-ridden building the city was able to clean out, says Kevin O'Neil, the neighborhood's liaison with the police.
"It made a world of difference," he says. "The street is now alive with good people."