CAPS facilitator pleads for more community involvement with cops at local meetings

Niden’s tabulations of crime in Hyde Park’s police beats. Violent crimes are highlighted in yellow. – Courtesy of Howard Niden

Staff Writer

A cornerstone of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, or CAPS, are monthly beat meetings, where police officers and citizens gather together to discuss local crime and security issues and attempt to collaboratively find solutions to them. Amidst a city and nationwide conversation about police conduct and an upswing in crime in Hyde Park, Howard Niden, a retired businessman and the local CAPS facilitator, is appealing for more community members to take part in the process starting with its June meeting.

“Just because I’m a CAPS facilitator does not mean that I don’t have a lot of bones to pick with the Chicago Police Department,” he said in an interview with the Herald, acknowledging that many Chicagoans have had less-than-stellar interactions with the police on one occasion or another. Nevertheless, “I think that if the people in the neighborhood and the police spend more time together when there are difficult issues, having communication is a lot easier.”

He said, “When you’re sitting down and a human being with another human being, you’re not a blue uniform and you’re not a person in a hoodie, you start to think about the people you’re dealing with as human beings on both sides.”

Niden keeps a record of issues raised at each CAPS meeting. At the next month’s meeting, the police go down the agenda and relay what they have done about each instance. Niden said the CAPS coordinators are “pretty good” at this process.

What Niden regrets is that most civilians who attend CAPS meetings only come after experiencing a crime; it is often the case that there are more officers than civilians at the meetings. “If people in the community don’t exhibit an interest in the fact that crime is up this year over last year, the police department is going to go someplace else where there is an interest in that happening,” he said, adding that CPD keeps track of the number of people who attend CAPS meetings.

And crime is going up, especially car break-ins. Nimen has categorized and tabulated yearly crime figures in the three police beats making up Hyde Park. From 2016 to 2017, instances of criminal damage, mostly car break-ins, jumped 162 percent, from 55 to 144; robberies increased to 31 from 18.

The area around Cornell Park, 5473 S. Cornell Ave., has seen two murders within the last two years, in December 2016 and last March. The park has also gained a reputation as a drug-dealing location.

As a result, the June 20 CAPS meeting will take place at Cornell Park at 6:30 p.m., and Niden and the CPD hope the community will attend.

“The police commander said, ‘Let’s get some visibility to the park. Let’s let the neighborhood know that there are people who are interested in the park being safe,’” he said. “By having a CAPS meeting, the message is if you’re interested in having the park be safe, show up just to show there is interest in the park.”

Niden said he hopes the meeting is a success and that civilians use it as an opportunity to effectively engage with the police, “so that we don’t get to crisis levels before a mob of angry people come into the CAPS meeting.”