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"To her right is, uh, Ron, um . . ."
An aide leaned over to help him out: "Holt."
"Holt!" said McCarthy. "From the CAPS office."
It was a telling moment. The Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy office is the one that's supposed to coordinate the department's efforts at community organizing and neighborhood crime prevention—the one whose budget has been cut from $9 million in 2000 to half that this year to nothing in 2013.
Yet McCarthy says that's all part of a new, "revitalized" approach to community policing in Chicago. He says it will put more patrol officers on the beat, empower block clubs to reclaim corners from drug dealers, and reduce gang violence—all without more police officers, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel once promised but McCarthy insists are unnecessary. The city can't afford them either, but McCarthy doesn't talk about that.
"There's no studies that show that more cops means less murders," McCarthy told aldermen. "It's what those officers do."
He's got a point. But city residents can be forgiven for thinking they've heard some of these promises before, because they have. And often it's hard to tell which are policies that will impact neighborhood safety and which are political maneuvers meant to buy time.
"Chicago is faced with a widening gap between citizen demands and government resources. The resulting strains on the budgets of not only the Police Department, but also schools, parks, streets and sanitation, and other city services, only exacerbate the already dangerous conditions that are contributing to high levels of crime, disorder, and fear in so many of our neighborhoods."
That's from a paper called "Together We Can" put together by police officials in 1993. The document detailed the department's new commitment to community policing, which emphasizes collaboration between cops and residents to prevent crime.
It was also released at a time when Mayor Richard Daley was facing criticism for failing to fulfill a campaign promise to hire 600 more police officers.
Community policing was supposed to be a department-wide philosophy. But CAPS quickly became a program burrowed within the department and known mostly for holding monthly meetings in each beat. At its best, CAPS officers worked with residents to address issues ranging from rat infestation to heroin dealing, and in many neighborhoods CAPS meetings remain well attended and productive.
At its worst, though, CAPS was an expensive PR operation for the mayor. There were never enough officers freed to focus on crime prevention. And it's no coincidence that City Hall tended to talk more about CAPS—and throw around the term "community policing"—when it helped politically.
During a summer of high-profile shootings two years ago, Mayor Daley announced that he was recommitting to community policing. He tapped Holt to lead the effort. "I've told Ron CAPS must redouble its efforts to be an important catalyst," Daley said.
The appointment made headlines because Holt wasn't just any cop: his own son, 16-year-old Blair, had been slain when he tried to protect others from a shooting on a CTA bus in 2007.
A few months after that declaration, Daley announced he wasn't running for reelection, then gutted the CAPS program, forcing officers to cut the frequency of meetings.
Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel brought McCarthy on board last year, Holt has been ignored and community policing has been an afterthought. Instead, McCarthy has focused on CompStat, his New York-imported system of holding police commanders accountable for reducing murders and shootings.
Everyone knows what's happened this year: for a host of complicated reasons, the city has suffered a jump in violence that made the national news. It also prompted usually pliant aldermen to ask for more police.
According to city records, Chicago currently has about 10,500 police officers on the payroll, a drop of about 1,300 over five years. Emanuel and McCarthy says they've moved hundreds from desk to street duty, and others from specialized units to beat patrols, but that hasn't ended the appeals for more. In fact, one of McCarthy's signature crime-prevention initiatives involved shifting extra police to Englewood and the west side; after it apparently helped reduce crime there, other aldermen asked for more police in their neighborhoods too.
"Some of these communities are basically on fire, superintendent," 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran, a former cop, told McCarthy Wednesday. "The men and women out there know they are not getting the services they need because there are not enough officers."
When McCarthy insisted that the department is at "full strength" with 12,500 sworn members—that is, from cadets and beat cops to top brass—22nd Ward alderman Rick Munoz asked to see the analysis that produced the figure.
McCarthy hedged. "It's not an analysis—it's a process. We don't have a document that says this is what we need based on that. It's looking at it and feeling that we have the right numbers in the right places."
It was an interesting answer, since a consulting firm headed by former police chief Terry Hillard claims it's conducted "a Patrol Staffing Analysis and Review for the Chicago Police Department Bureau of Patrol."
Bottom line: no expansion of the force.
But McCarthy argues it's time to get back to true community policing: making sure that patrol officers can stick with one beat they get to know well, and that the CAPS office is dismantled and replaced with . . . something he hasn't figured out yet.
In the meantime, CAPS officers will now all report to district commanders, though most already did. Beat meetings will continue, but CAPS funding will disappear into the rest of the $1.3 billion police department budget, essentially to help cover salary costs that have grown even without new hires.
As for Holt and other CAPS leaders, they'll be given something else to do. "We don't know where they're going to fit per se," said Wysinger, the deputy superintendent.
No one explained how exactly the community comes into all of this. Police in the districts haven't been told anything either.
"This is all being built as we speak," said McCarthy.