Beat Realignment by any Other Name

The Mayor, alderman, and community members have known for at least two decades that beat realignment has been needed in Chicago yet nobody has, up until now, had the political will to do it. Mayor Daley on a number of occasions has talked about it and every one of his Superintendents over the last 20 years has talked about needing to get it done yet here we are rapidly approaching 2011 and we still can’t seem to get it done. I will give you three reasons why it has not happened and explain why I think it is finally going to happen, albeit in a much more scaled down version that what is really needed.

1. Racism

There is little doubt that over the years that some white north side alderman believe that their local district officers are a force against the ever increasing tide of gang members (which is code for young men of color that live in the city) that are just chomping at the bit to come victimize their community. While no alderman has or will ever say this publicly, if you unpack the comments over the past couple of decades racism is at the heart.

2. Class

Interwoven within the comments that expose a racial animus from alderman and north side community members is also a class bias. Despite the ever-present rainbow of colors presented by Mayor Daley in just about every press conference Chicago is still a very segregated city both by race and class (see this map of segregation in Chicago from 1910-2000). Many north side residents and political figures see the CPD as the state’s arm enforcing race and class boundaries. North side communities fear poor people penetrating their borders as much if not more than they do people of color.

3. Police as crime preventers

I have talked about this at length in other posts so I will keep it short. What exactly prevents some people from committing crimes while having no impact on others is a mystery. Certain interventions can have an impact but deciphering the level of their impact is nearly impossible for an ethical criminologist. The reality is that researchers are starting to figure out there is a meaningful difference between preventing crime and displacing crime. I will explain below:
Crime prevention:

For a police department to achieve this outcome the potential perpetrator would have to not commit a crime that he or she was going to commit, ever.

Crime displacement:

This is when a potential perpetrator decides not to commit his crime against a certain individual at a certain time and place because of some measures taken by a police agency or community to make that potential site at the specific time unsuitable for the commission of the crime. The perpetrator then goes on to commit the crime at a different time and place, maybe against the same individual or a completely different individual. Now the measures taken by the police or the community at the original location have prevented crime from taking place at the original location but have only displaced where it occurred but have not prevented it from occurring all together.

Another way at looking at the difference:

Crime Prevention = no victim

Crime Displacement = same or different victim

The current belief by most alderman in Chicago that the CPD is a crime preventing organization are for the most part dead wrong. Why, because with the exception of a few very specific instances they are not meant to be. The CPD currently has roving units that are used to flood areas where gang violence has spiked to help cool down the tensions in hope that after the short cooling off period the retaliatory crimes will not be committed. I think that the CPD has had some success doing this but it is very hard to measure because a murder that occurs six months after the officers are removed from the community may be linked to a past act of violence that occurred prior to the CPD flooding the area with police. Outside of this limited role the CPD is not really a preventative force.

This is simple:

The Mayor is finally a lame duck and many of the alderman are either not running for reelection or are safe enough to withstand the political fallout. However, the manner in which this re-deployment plan is currently being handled is problematic. It is being done with little to no community input behind closed doors in the Mayor’s office. Always a good sign that clout and incompetency is not at work, right? There should be an ordinance passed detailing a process by which every 10 years, maybe with the census, the City is required to conduct a beat realignment based on crime figures.