A report produced by a coalition of community organizations says interviews with more than 1,650 Chicago residents included accounts of “a long history of disrespect, abuse and humiliation that marginalized communities have suffered at the hands of police.” The “Citywide Community Conversations” report conducted by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) collected comments from 19 meetings held across Chicago intended to “begin to develop and advocate for plans to improve police accountability and community-police relations.”
The report illustrates frustration under-privileged and minority communities have with the police. “At the end of the day community members want to be safe,” said GAPA Coordinator Mecole Jordan, who oversaw the production of the report. “They want to live and thrive and walk up and down the street in their community. Holistically.”
But, many community members feel a disconnect with police that leads to distrust. “Understand, [community members] ask for police officers to really be a part of their community, not just people who come in to do a job. To be a part, to say hello, to understand and to have relationships. Not just to come in, do a job and collect a paycheck. You protect things you care about, generally speaking. We want people to take the time to understand our culture,” said Jordan.
When there’s distrust, community members don’t feel like they can turn to the police, making the police’s job harder as well, said Jordan.
The ten-page report mirrors many suggestions made by the March 2016 Police Accountability Task Force report and January’s Department of Justice report. But perhaps because GAPA’s report is entirely made up of community comments, it puts a high priority on increasing police-community interaction. “There was an overwhelming belief that in order for police to work more effectively to keep communities safe, they need to spend substantially more time deliberately building relationships and trust with local residents,” said the report.
The GAPA organization, an umbrella group of community groups loosely organized since last summer and funded by philanthropic organizations including the Woods Fund, Chicago Community Trust, the MacArthur Foundation and others, was tapped by Mayor Rahm Emanuel last fall to conduct a survey to determine the best way to devise a community police oversight board. Emanuel had promised to create such a board when he introduced his police reform legislation last October, but held off introducing community oversight legislation so GAPA could conduct its outreach and research.
In an interview Wednesday, Jordan downplayed the imprimatur given by Emanuel last fall. “Our hope is through the community engagement process, whatever we come up with the mayor will be able to adopt. But there has been no agreement there,” Jordan said.
Last October, when GAPA announced their plan, some police reform advocates voiced concern it was just a way to sidetrack accountability efforts. But today, Frank Chapman, an organizer for the Community Police Accountability Council (CPAC) plan that was introduced in City Council last October, told The Daily Line he likes the report.
“I think it’s good. It’s very constructive. I don’t see any major points of disagreement in terms of specific ideas or policy positions,” said Chapman. “But, in terms of the policy suggestions, I have a question: How do we get to implementation?”
Black Lives Matter organizer Kofi Ademola also liked the report, but was concerned the outcome. “My concerns are around some of the ideas presented the roles of officers and what that looks like in communities and how they think they can leverage and balance the different roles of how police engage in so-called ‘fighting crime’,” Ademola said. “As police officer, I might be involved in a peace circle one day, and then the next day me pulling him over asking him to snitch on his friends about dealing drugs. I wonder how an attorney might look at that.”
Dean Angelo, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, was not supportive of the report. “This document is yet another, albeit nicely formatted, incredible approach to what a limited group of non-police continue to use a self-protecting mechanism into an arena that they have zero clue about, let alone any idea of what to offer as a solution,” he said in an emailed statement. “I would suggest they spend their time on solutions to end the non-stop killing of innocent children. Groups like GAPA continue to seek support (whether it be financial or political) to thwart proactive policing.”
Jordan says the group will begin to create a second report with specific recommendations for how police oversight might be managed in Chicago, and what responsibilities such a group should have to be effective.