Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy

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Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) was started in 1993 as a pilot program in five diverse neighborhoods. A year later, the Chicago Police Department implemented CAPS all across Chicago. The goal of CAPS was to blend traditional policing strategies with alternative strategies aimed at encouraging community members and police to work together to reduce the occurrence of crimes. It was implemented after a realisation that between the 1960s and 1990s, the community and police were becoming increasingly isolated from one another throughout the country and in Chicago.

This alternative method was designed to isolate the community and the police less than traditional methods. CAPS emphasized the need for increased lines of communication between the community and the police, so that together they could come up with solutions for chronic neighborhood problems. Their motto was “Together We Can” which promoted the cooperation of police, community and city services in fighting crime.


The CAPS Implementation Office was created and staffed by civilian community outreach workers who organized court advocacy programs and coordinated city services in support of CAPS related programs.


Chicago is divided into 25 police districts and further divided into 281 police beats.[1] Beats are small geographic areas to which police officers are assigned. Rather than changing beat officers daily, with CAPS the same officers are allegedly assigned to a beat for at least a year. This encouraged partnerships and problem solving at the beat level.Office of Emergency Management and Communication (OEMC) dispatchers use a call priority matrix, often assigning the "nearest police unit".[2] This coupled with attrition shorts from under-staffing the police department results in officers usually spending most of their day of the beat. However, not all officers were beat officers, and some police units still used forms of the traditional method for emergency and rapid response. Each month, community beat meetings are held in all of Chicago's 281 beats, without the participation of any off-duty (not working) police personnel. Individual residents meet with their beat officers and other police personnel to discuss neighborhood problems and hopefully develop strategies to address them. Beyond the community, CAPS heavily relies on city agencies and services to prevent crime. The City of Chicago has set up cooperative efforts with the Mayor’s Liquor License Commission, the Department of Streets and Sanitation, the Department of Buildings and other agencies to ensure the police have support from the city to handle smaller problems like abandoned buildings and graffiti before they lead to more serious crimes. CAPS has no underlying criminology theory as its basis and no rigorous academic studies have shown CAPS as an effective or efficient anti-crime tool. Many assumed studies[citation needed] of community guardianship or control of public space have been narrowly researched or applied in a limited number of circumstances or communities and few, if any, follow-up studies have been conducted.[citation needed]

Community involvement[edit]

Individuals become involved by attending a local beat meetings. Chicago Police Department lists when and where all beat meetings take place on their website. Meetings generally take place monthly at a regular time and are generally held in a community area, such as a church, park or school. A CAPS facilitator runs the meetings, running the meeting according to an agenda and calling on community members to ask questions. The police are active members and play a major role in all discussions.

Another major component of meetings is the special role played by a small group of dedicated beat meeting activists. These activists come to meetings frequently in their beats, driving up attendance and CAPS related activism. CAPS related activism includes marches, rallies, prayer vigils, and smoke-outs (group barbecue at gang or drug-infested sites). Community members who attend the meeting have the chance to ask questions and voice concerns about crime-related problems in their neighborhood, hear reports by the police on crime activity in their beat, and meet neighbors who are also concerned about the safety of their community. Attendance is generally higher where it is needed. The beat meetings where attendance is the highest, are areas with bad housing, high levels of crime, and poor schools. Awareness of CAPS has grown in all racial groups, but several studies[citation needed] have found that awareness is highest among African American residents of Chicago.

Beat meeting attendance[edit]

In 2000 the United States Department of Justice found that beat meeting attendance rose steadily with levels of civic engagement, rising to more than 40% among residents involved in at least three kinds of local organizations. Church involvement showed a high correlation with CAPS involvement as well; one explanation for this was that many CAPS meetings are held in churches, especially in African American communities where both CAPS and church involvement are particularly strong.[3]

District Advisory Committee[edit]

In addition to the monthly beat meetings, there are also District Advisory Committees (DAC), which meet regularly with the commander of the district to discuss district affairs. The members of the DAC are generally community leaders, business owners or local community activists. The goal of the DAC is to discuss district priorities and develop district-wide strategies with community resources. A 2004 Northwestern University report, Caps at Ten, claimed that many members were frustrated about their ill-defined mandates, leadership problems and inaction.[4] Instead of an overall guide for the whole Police Department Caps had evolved into a bureaucratic program.

Revitalized in 2013[edit]

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police chief Garry McCarthy pledged to revitalize the CAPS program. The central office will be dismantled and resources will be shifted to each of the 25 Police districts. "Under the new initiative, each police district will be assigned a CAPS sergeant and two police officers, as well as a community organizer and a youth services provider. Four citywide coordinators will oversee community policing programs targeted at victim assistance, seniors, youth, and victims of domestic violence."[5] In July 2013, Chief McCarthy unveiled a prototype for three districts that would facilitate the use of the Twitter micro-blogging service to share information, text-messaging directly to the responding officers, and the use of camera equipped smartphones to alert and assist at the moment of response. A more user-friendly website,, was also unveiled.[6] [7]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ ClearPath. "Know Your district". Chicago Police Department. Retrieved 2013-1-27.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  2. ^ See directives., for information on how the police department really works
  3. ^ Justice, National Institute of (Sep 2000). "Public Involvements:Community Policing in Chicago" (PDF). Policy Research. Retrieved 2013-1-27.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  4. ^ University, Northwestern (April 2004). "Community Policing in Chicago". Retrieved 2013-1-27.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. ^ Rogers, Phil (1/08/2013). "Emanuel, McCarthy Aim to Change CAPS". NBC-CHGO. Retrieved 2013-1-27.  Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  6. ^ D'onofrio, Jessica. "CAPS using Twitter, smartphone to combat Chicago violence". Retrieved 26 July 2013. 
  7. ^ "New ways residents can communicate with Police" (PDF). Chicago Police Department. Retrieved 26 July 2013.