Chicago police will focus on community policing by expanding the department’s Civil Rights Unit and adding new initiatives to better connect with city residents, police Superintendent David Brown announced Friday.
“The Chicago Police Department this morning is taking a big swing at community policing, community engagement and building trust,” Brown said. “Arguably, this will be the most significant commitment of effort, resources and leadership to building trust in Chicago PD’s history.”
The department’s community policing plan focuses on four areas: community engagement, youth engagement, a neighborhood-policing initiative expansion and the Civil Rights Unit expansion, Brown said during a news conference.
Brown called it a “transformative moment for CPD,” and a pursuit of cultural change by directing all officers’ focus toward community policing rather than “traditional policing.”
For youth engagement, the department has created a police athletic and arts league across all neighborhoods. The neighborhood policing initiative will include the “re-imagining of the CAPS program,” Brown said.
The expansion of the Civil Rights Unit includes adding liaisons who are sworn officers to connect with LGBTQ+ residents, homeless people and immigrant and religious communities, Brown said. These liaisons were selected based on their personal background, lived experienced or academic experience.
Those liaisons will work citywide to connect people with the resources, Brown said. There will also be 22 “affinity liaison officers,” one for each district, who will specifically work with marginalized communities in the neighborhoods they are responsible for, officials said.
Deputy Chief of Community Policing Angel Novalez, who was promoted from commander of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy program during the news conference, said the expansion of the Civil Rights Unit came from the recognition that the department needed to improve its relationship in the targeted communities.
Novalez said when developing the Civil Rights Unit, those who created it reached out to advocacy groups for their input on desired qualifications for liaison officers.
“I want to remind our communities that this is just a small step forward in a long journey, and we ask that you join us,” he said.
The move comes as the department continues to make changes under a federal consent decree following the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by then-Officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. The department has also faced criticism from activists and in a Chicago inspector general’s report for its handling of protests and civil unrest last summer in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Most recently, the department was criticized by the Latino community after officers fatally shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo and 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez during foot pursuits in March. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the department responded by vowing to create a foot pursuit policy, which has been released in preliminary form.
“These newly created roles are above and beyond what the consent decree required in the area of community policing,” Brown said of Friday’s announcement.
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