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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

West Side Police Districts Aim To Better Understand Areas They Patrol Through Community Training Academy

The program trains officers on implicit bias and the unique challenges facing residents in their beat.

The Harrison Police District is expanding its community policing strategy.
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WEST SIDE — The Police Department has expanded its community policing strategy on the West Side to give officers a better understanding of the unique challenges residents face and the resources available to help them.

The Community Training Academy expanded to the 11th and 10th police districts as part of the Neighborhood Policing Initiative. The initiative was piloted in the 25th Police District in 2019 as a relationship-oriented strategy for improving pubic safety.

The initiative trains a small number of officers to become district coordination officers. These officers build relationships with businesses, organizations and residents to help them address local issues by connecting people to the resources they need.

The training includes a community immersion program led by residents.

“It’s important for someone who has a role in determining someone’s freedom or not to understand that it is not just simply bad character of the of the residents of these communities,” said Burrell Poe, an Austin resident who facilitating some officer trainings.

The program, which is codesigned by the Metropolitan Peace Academy of Metro Family Services, includes trauma-informed trainings and teaches officers how implicit bias may influence policing.

The training sessions facilitated by Poe emphasize the city’s history of segregation, disinvestment in the West Side and policies rooted in racism. Police officers need to be aware of how inequity has been woven into the fabric of Black communities since “they are inheriting that history in their in their role within the community,” he said.

“There’s a context of abandonment, disinvestment and, quite frankly, violence on the part of our system that was directed at people who lived in these communities,” Poe said.

Violence is often one symptom of underlying social issues like unemployment, homelessness, food insecurity, mental and physical health challenges, Poe said. Police are not equipped to deal with those issues even though they are utilized by the city as a “catchall social service” to address problems that emerge from a lack of public resources, he said.

“It’s important to do this, in the absence of not doing anything. It doesn’t respond to the enormity of need that is there, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Poe said. “It at least opens up more of their time so that they can try to help in a better way.”

Mike Milstein, deputy director of Community Policing, said officers who complete the three-day training will be better able to address the social circumstances that lead to crime in each district by helping residents connect to resources. In the 15th Police District, officers have supported residents with accessing coronavirus tests and finding jobs, Milstein said.

“It helps officers get a better understanding about how they can better relate to people in their neighborhood, how they can better serve them,” Milstein said.

Officers toured North Lawndale with West Side teens over the summer as part of the Neighborhood Policing Initiative’s expansion to the 10th Police District. The tour was aimed at building relationships with locals and giving officers more context around the problems they police.

The youth tour guides from My Block, My Hood, My City said they had mixed feelings around the expansion of community policing in neighborhoods that are already over-policed. But the young people said the tours were a valuable opportunity to give officers a more nuanced perspective of the neighborhood and its people, who are too often written off as “bad” or “dangerous.”

“We was just showing them our neighborhood and the history behind it because North Lawndale is not bad. People just feel it’s bad because they see all the bad stuff in the news … the neighborhood overall is good,” said youth tour guide Briana Hamilton.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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