Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)

As crime heats up, Chicago turns to community policing — Dallas-style


There is a potential gem in Chicago Police Supt. David Brown’s recent announceme­nts about restructur­ing his forces to better respond to what has been a historical­ly violent summer.

Brown is creating “a specialize­d citywide unit to tackle violent crime and create community partnershi­ps in some of Chicago’s most challengin­g areas.”

The plan, parts of which were detailed Friday, sounds reminiscen­t of the Neighborho­od Police Team concept he created while chief of the Dallas Police Department.

If so, we’re all for it.

In Dallas, officers assigned to teams worked to build better relationsh­ips in the city’s toughest communitie­s. That effort has been cited — along with other initiative­s — with helping the city achieve a 50-year low in crime rates from 2009 through 2015.

Chicago, caught between a rising number of homicides and legitimate calls for police reforms, desperatel­y needs an approach and results like those.

‘Make us feel safe’

Created by Brown in 2012, the 80-officer Dallas Neighborho­od Police Team significan­tly increased foot patrols. Officers got to know the residents on their beats and helped them form neighborho­od crime watch groups. They attended community functions and addressed lower-level concerns.

“As long as they come and talk to guys, and make us feel safe out there, that’s the main thing,” Dallas salon owner Michael Evans told a local TV station, WFAN, in 2016.

The bonus is gaining valuable intelligen­ce on these kids doing the shootings.

Once trust was better establishe­d, residents reportedly began cooperatin­g more with the police, alerting them to gang and drug activity — including pointing out drug houses.

“When citizens realize that we are genuinely here to help them with their problems, no matter how small, then many of them, in turn, start helping us,” Joshua Shipp, a Neighborho­od Team officer assigned to southeast Dallas told Texas Monthly in 2016.

“They start giving us tips about illegal activities that they know are taking place,” Shipp said. “They give us a chance to clean up their neighborho­ods so that they can feel safe.”

In Dallas, Brown did something else we’d like to see here: He created the 30-officer Youth Outreach Unit. Cops assigned to the unit did things like coach sports and help out in community gardens. One officer gave kids guitar lessons.

Along with better community relations and less crime, excessive force complaints against Dallas police officers dropped by a staggering 80%.

And cops shot fewer citizens. This isn’t to say the Dallas program — or its officers — was without problems. Amber Guyger, the white Dallas officer serving a 10-year sentence for killing Black accountant Botham Jean in his own apartment in 2018, was one of those neighborho­od team officers.

The shooting happened, though, after Brown had retired from the department.

Good interventi­on ‘goes a long way’

Brown has begun assigning his citywide summer mobile patrol unit to participat­e in once-a-week community service projects, mostly on the South and West sides, in a bid to build trust while fighting crime. More than 200 officers will be assigned to the unit by the end of next week.

Weekly assignment­s will include the police participat­ing in prayer circles and peace marches. Officers will also do things like deliver food and face masks to seniors.

And how’s this for making a point? Brown announced the new program in the Woodlawn community, where he had come to participat­e in a neighborho­od cleanup.

Brown’s latest efforts offer hope, if only because they recognize that it’ll take more than specialize­d police suppressio­n teams, “flooding the zone” with cops, the aggressive clearing of street corners, and other typical law enforcemen­t tactics to solve Chicago’s violence problem.

Sure, those methods are dramatic and highly visual. They can produce results. But taken by themselves, they can reinforce the idea of the police as an occupying force.

Retired veteran Chicago Police Lt. Robert Angone, who writes to us on occasion from Florida, warns against an approach to policing that emphasizes swooping in when an area gets hot but fails to build relationsh­ips.

Once cops and the people in a neighborho­od develop trust, Angone said, the police are in a position to gain “valuable intelligen­ce” on those who are doing the shooting.

“When was the last time anyone asked why they are shooting each other?” Angone asked. “Of course it’s dope and territory, but interventi­on by neighborho­od cops could go a long way.”

What’s worked in Dallas, we hope and pray, can work in Chicago.

 ?? PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES ?? Chicago Police Supt. David Brown greets community activist William Calloway in West Woodlawn on Friday morning.
PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES Chicago Police Supt. David Brown greets community activist William Calloway in West Woodlawn on Friday morning.

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