AUURN GRESHAM — In the crowded and bustling basement of St. Sabina Church, neighbors and Chicago Police officers sat down last week to try to make things better.
For two hours Wednesday, 100 or so residents of the Chicago Police Department’s Gresham (6th) District gathered in groups of 12 to brainstorm, occasionally retreating to the back of the room for a bag of chips or a bottle of water.
It was the second year of the CPD’s citywide community strategy meetings, where residents team up with the department to figure out ways to better engage the community it serves. Residents are given two questions to debate among their group for one hour, after which one representative from each table shares their answers with the larger group.
At the end of the session, the makings of a comprehensive safety plan begin to take form, with the officers taking what they’ve learned to prepare for the follow-up meeting usually scheduled several weeks later. From there, the police department will have a list of action items to work on for the next year.
For Officer Tracy Bolan, these community conversations have allowed her and other members of the 6th District to develop a stronger connection with the residents. The anger and tension that usually surrounds these types of meetings is absent, replaced with a sense of peace and purpose.
“This is the second round of conversations we’ve had, and they’re actually seeing that what they wanted has went into effect. They saw the changes, and it made them come back tonight,” said Bolan. “And tonight we’re tackling crime reduction.”
At last year’s meeting, residents told officers they wanted to reduce gun violence, narcotics sales and loose cigarette sales. Officers were deployed to area hotspots from 79th Street and Ashland Avenue to 83rd Street and Hamilton Avenue, triggering a drop in activity, police said.
Ticketing for non-arrestable offenses also worked, added Bolan.
“People started getting tickets, and the area started to clear out,” she said. “So we did what they asked, and they saw the results.”
Youth and senior engagement was another concern, so the 6th District teamed up with several nonprofit organizations like After School Matters and One Summer Chicago, to improve relations while seniors took a tour of the city and had a festival in Millennium Park. The department also worked with seniors to give out medical bracelets so that they’d have their information on file.
Jobs were another issue, so the district held employment and resource fairs in various neighborhoods. They also erected a job board inside of the headquarters, where residents can see listings and career resources.
Longtime community activist Anthony Tramil and his family came away from Wednesday night’s meeting encouraged. Though they reside in a neighboring district, they plan on taking what they learned back to their neighborhood.
“We need to see this, to see the police and the community working together,” said Tramil, who runs a block club on 71st and Sawyer Ave. “This shows that CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) works if you work it.”
The next community conversation will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 14 at New Covenant Baptist Church, 754 E. 77th.