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Policing Paper – The Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) Essay

Over the last 20 years, a new concept of policing has emerged that will replace the law enforcement aspects of an officer’s duties and replace them with crime prevention.  This new concept is community policing, which “should develop partnerships with neighborhood residents, develop programs tailored for specific problems, and give rank-and-file officers more decision-making freedom with regard to how best to deal with particular problems” (Walker & Katz, pg 50, 3).  Although this new approach to policing has been around since the 1980s, the city of Chicago was the first large police department to adopt the program city-wide with the announcement of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) in April 1993 (Skogan, et al., 2002).  This paper will explain the strengths, weaknesses, and future of the CAPS program.

As explained above, the community policing concept allows the officer to become a problem-solver instead of a reactor by developing relationships within the neighborhoods in which the department serves.  CAPS adopted a five-step program to assist with this effort.  These steps include:

· “Identify and prioritize problems

· Analyze problems

· Design response strategies

· Implement response strategies

· Assess the success of response strategies” (Skogan, et al, 2002, pg 4, ¶ 3).

The five steps were accomplished through turf orientation and mobilizing city services.  The turf orientation consisted of 279 beats with nine or 10 officers assigned to each.  These officers were suppose to develop relationships and trust among the residents of each beat; however, due to the high number of 911 calls, the officers found that they did not have the necessary time to accomplish both tasks.  Therefore, the Chicago Police Department hired extra officers that were assigned to “free-roving rapid-response units” (Skogan, et al., 2002 pg 5, ¶ 6).

These free-roving units were responsible for handling the extra 911 calls and were not tied to a specific beat, which allowed the beat officers to remain within their territories long enough to establish trust and relationships with the public.  The beat officers also mobilized city services to help with the initial clean-up needed to deter crime and reduce the public’s fear of potential crime.  City ordinances were changed to expedite the removal of graffiti, abandoned vehicles towed, and abandoned or unsafe buildings demolished.  Malfunctioning street lights were also fixed, and civilian coordinators put in charge of providing the beat officers the necessary services they needed to solve problems within the community (Skogan, et al., 2002).

Once the initial issues had been addressed, the beat officers needed to get the community more involved in the CAPS program.  The first step in this was to obtain citizen input about the concerns within the neighborhoods and create new roles for residents to ensure their neighborhoods remained safe.  Beat meetings were created to “serve as a forum for exchanging information and prioritizing and analyzing local problems” (Skogan, et al, 2002, pg 8, ¶ 2).  These meetings were held on a monthly basis in church basements and park buildings, and allowed the beat officers and the residents of each community to become better acquainted.  However, many of these meetings ended up being filled with complaints from residents instead of prioritizing and creating action plans to correct problems.  Therefore, more training has been provided for beat officers and civilian facilitators in order to maintain order within the beat meetings (Skogan, et al., 2002).

Residents were also given more roles to ensure the neighborhoods remained safe.  District advisory committees (DACs) were created to advise commanders of concerns and plan police-citizen projects.  These committees consisted of “community leaders, school council members, ministers, business operators, and representatives of significant organizations and institutions in the district” (Skogan, et. al, 2002, pg 11, ¶ 2).  However, this aspect of the CAPS program has not evolved as originally expected.  Partly because the DACs have not thought strategically about correcting wide-spread problems, and partly because the DACs are not as diverse as they should be; leaving gaps in the representation of all races and social classes within a large area (Skogan, et al, 2002).

Although there have been a few pitfalls in the implementation of the CAPS program, there have also been some improvements.  One such improvement includes crime analysis.  A crime-mapping system has been created that is updated continuously; allowing police the information needed for problem-solving and tactical operations.  The city has also implemented a new 311 system that is used for nonemergency situations (Skogan, et al, 2002).  Another improvement has included the creation of a roving task force that includes police, building, health, and fire inspectors.  This task force’s sole responsibility is to enforce antigang and drug house ordinances.  A third improvement includes the cooperation of city legal staff whom have set up offices within communities to assist police in reoccurring problems, prosecute hate crimes, and conduct seminars about crime prevention (Skogan, et al, 2002).

Since the implementation of the CAPS program, Chicago has seen a decrease in crimes ranging from burglary, auto theft, street crime, gangs, and drug problems.  However, the future of the program greatly depends on the current motivation of residents, police, and city leaders.  The city must become creative in ways to maintain its current CAPS program during these difficult economic times that have affected budgets on the city, state, and federal level, as well as replace retiring leadership with knowledgeable and driven officers and sergeants (Skogan, et al, 2002).


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