WBEZ Mischaracterizes Neighborhood Watch

Yesterday’s report on the West Ridge Community Watch Program broadcast by our local NPR station, WBEZ, was inaccurate in several respects, from the color of and legend on the jackets to the extent of concern by residents that Watch participants are somehow spies for the police. To suggest that the Watch program is racist in nature is a gross mischaracterization of the program, its participants, and our local police.

Members of the Community Watch program are neighbors watching out for neighbors. A single resident, Jennifer Viets, was interviewed by Odette Youseff of WBEZ and described Watch participants as “menacing” people in “uniforms” who have been “deputized;” worse, she has told neighbors with nonwhite children that they have reason to be afraid of Watch participants. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office at the February 6, 2017, Neighborhood Watch Program organizational meeting. He is wearing the yellow jacket which all Watch program participants wear while walking.

The Neighborhood Watch Program was formed as a response to property crimes, especially vehicle theft and thefts from yards, porches, garages, and vehicles. The idea is simple: Neighbors walk a few blocks around their neighborhood, noting unsecured or open doors on homes, garages, apartment buildings, or vehicles, or piles of rat-attracting garbage. Watchers may ring a doorbell to advise a homeowner that the garage has been left open or a bike left outside, or take a quick photo of the garbage and send it to the City via 311. If Watchers see public drinking, drug sales, or suspicious activities, such as someone walking down the street trying to open car doors, they call 911. Sgt. Sisk noted in the WBEZ report that most of the thefts occurred because people were not locking their doors.

Watchers have been specifically instructed by the police not to assume police powers and not to intervene in any situation; their sole role is to notify the City or the police of what, if anything, they note on their walks. They may not use their vehicles or ride bikes but must walk. They may not carry weapons or use police scanners, and must obey the law at all times. Watchers must be older than age 21. They can walk with their dogs (the dogs must be leashed). It’s suggested that two people walk together. Most importantly, Watchers have been told not to misrepresent themselves as police officers. They have no power to detain or arrest anyone.

Viets has complained in the past of her son’s treatment by the police several years ago when he was a young teenager (he is now an adult). I first heard her story last summer when she attended an event hosted by the alderman at which then-new Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was to meet residents of West Ridge. She said she was planning to confront Johnson with her story; he was unable to attend but Viets repeated her son’s story to the crowd. Youseff was careful in her report to note that the son “has never been convicted” of any crime, and in a follow-up interview said the young man had “no criminal record.” The police, of course, cannot discuss their encounters with either the young man or his mother, which leaves us with half the story. But Viets has assumed such an extreme anti-policing position that her window displays a sign saying “We don’t call police…..”

She also noted that all the Watchers are white, suggesting that the group is racist. But membership is open to all interested residents, and Watchers safeguard the property of non-white residents, too. Neither the police nor the Community Watch can be held accountable if non-white residents choose not to participate. If protecting your home, vehicle, and other property are not enough motivation for you to join the group, so be it. Participation is voluntary. Watchers do not discriminate, and would welcome neighbors of all races and ethnicities. Residents can opt in as well as out.

Youseff did note that the number of car thefts around Indian Boundary has decreased, though it’s not clear if this is a result of the Neighborhood Watch or simply a return to the “normal” level of that crime in the area. I’d bet the Watch has had an impact.

Viets told Youseff that she wants to try to develop a different approach to community-building.  She’s working with others to organize “resistance” and suggested that the shootings of Trayvon Martin by a community watch volunteer in Florida and of a black teenager by a Cleveland police officer support her concerns. It’s unfortunate that she cannot move past her anger with the police for what she believes is past injustice. Using that anger to deepen the racial divide does not help build community.

It’s wrong to suggest that our neighborhood watch program is cause for alarm. Good people keeping an eye out for potential trouble are an asset to the neighborhood.

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Community Watch Program Begins

Tuesday night’s meeting of the West Ridge Community Watch Program attracted a small but enthusiastic crowd of neighborhood residents, all of them volunteer members of our new anti-crime citizen patrol. Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office reviewed the purpose of the Neighborhood Watch and provided volunteers with additional instructions that will help them as they begin their daily or weekly crime-prevention walks throughout West Ridge.

Community Watch members will walk in teams of at least two people and will be on the alert for unlocked cars, homes with open doors or windows and no homeowner around, garages with open doors, or bikes left outside for the night unsecured. Should they see a crime in progress, Neighborhood Watch walkers will call 911; they will also note piles of garbage or other matters properly handled by the City and will contact 311.

Walkers will keep logs of where and what times they walk, and how long the walks last. This information will be useful in tracking the Watch’s impact on crime levels in various areas of the neighborhood.  Responding to a question about the best time to walk, Sgt. Sisk noted that crime happens all day, so anytime is the best time.

Watch volunteers will be provided with whatever they need to help the community stay safe. Sisk noted that West Ridge “is not a violent neighborhood” although “isolated incidents” occur from time to time. Walkers were advised to read and become familiar with the crime-prevention tip sheets available through CPD. These can be handed out to neighbors and others.

One neighbor asked about the danger of racial profiling, and Sisk explained the difference between profiling and giving a detailed description. Volunteers will be reporting behavior, not race, although race can be part of a description. For example, he said, reporting three black men walking down the street is profiling; reporting three black men walking down the street trying to open car doors is reporting behavior, with the men’s race just a part of their description. 

So far, all the Community Watch volunteers are white. Sisk and the audience expressed the hope that Black, Latino, Asian, and Middle Eastern neighbors will also join, and efforts will be made to reach out to nonwhite neighbors to make the Watch volunteers more diverse. It’s up to all residents to help keep the community safe.

At the end of the meeting volunteers ordered their yellow jackets, which the CAPS officers will deliver personally to each walker. Come summer, yellow tee shirts will probably substitute for the jackets.

To become a member of the West Ridge Community Watch Program, contact the 24th District CAPS office:

24th District CAPS: 312/744-6321 or caps24.org

 

West Rogers Park Community Watch

The kick-off meeting for the new West Rogers Park Community Watch program is scheduled for Tuesday, February 21, at 7:00 p.m. at Indian Boundary Park. Jacket information will also be available at this meeting. Please alert your neighbors to this opportunity to help our police keep our neighborhood safe.

desktopwrp-community-watch-flyer

 

CAPS neighborhood Watch Program – Part II

Please read the excellent comment to my Wednesday post on this topic. Reader Dan Miller provides an excellent report on an organized protest that disrupted the second half of Monday’s Neighborhood Watch meeting.

I don’t understand protests like this. CAPS called an open meeting, inviting all members of the community to attend and learn about the program. The alderman included the meeting notice in her newsletter. And the community responded: A diverse group of residents showed up. It’s true that the majority appeared to be white, but this was not by design or intent. Neither the neighbors nor CAPS can be held accountable for the failure of other ethnicities to appear in larger numbers.

It would be hard not have a white majority at a community meeting in the 50th Ward. According to the U.S. Census, 62% of Zip Code 60645 is white; Latinos are 17% of this Zip’s population, with black residents just under 15%, and Asians 5.5%; 14% of this area is foreign-born. The numbers for Zip Code 60659 are almost identical. There could be lots of reasons for nonattendance: work, family responsibilities, inability to understand English–as well as simply being unaware of the meeting because of any of the above.

Since the protest appeared to be planned, I suspect it would have gone ahead regardless of which groups were easily identifiable in the audience. There was a similar protest down Devon Avenue late on either Saturday or Sunday afternoon, with loud music and complaints about racism and xenophobia on the handout protestors were distributing. The protest lasted about 20 minutes. Sometimes these protests are more about getting noticed, i.e., about the protestors themselves, rather than anything else. I doubt if we’ve seen the last of them, though.

Many years ago I took part in a similar community watch program in Rogers Park, called Walk Under the Stars. If anyone at that time felt spied on, I never heard about it. If anyone felt that neighbors working with the police to stop criminal activity was a bad thing, they never said so at any community meeting I attended. If anyone now wants to protest such activities by putting put a sign in her window that reads “We DON’T call police,” she’s welcome to do so.

She can call 911 after a crime occurs, rather than blasting Neighborhood Watch for trying to prevent it.

Sheesh.

 

CAPS Neighborhood Watch Program

An overflow crowd attended Monday’s meeting on the new CAPS Neighborhood Watch Program. CAPS Sgt. Shawn Sisk explained the program to attentive, focused residents, stressing that Neighborhood Watch will work only if its volunteers become strong partners with local police officers and the 50th Ward aldermanic office. To do that, volunteers will need the commitment, positive energy, optimism, cooperative attitude, and time necessary to make the program successful.

Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office at the February 6, 2017, Neighborhood Watch Program organizational meeting.

Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office at the February 6, 2017, West Ridge Neighborhood Watch Program organizational meeting.

Volunteers will help to identify questionable activities and situations that put residents and property at risk by walking or riding bikes in teams throughout the neighborhood, noting but not acting on potential problems and issues that are properly dealt with by the police or the ward office. Witnessing a crime in progress, for example, warrants a call to 911, whereas noticing piles of garbage that could house rats would mean a 311 report or call to the ward office.

Sisk also made it clear that volunteers, who must be age 21 or older, would not have any police authority and must not represent themselves as cops. Volunteers themselves must obey the law and may not carry weapons, even if they have concealed carry permits. Volunteers may not use police scanners, take photos or videos, or chase after wrongdoers. They may walk or ride bikes, but vehicles are not permitted. They can bring their dogs along, although the kids are better left at home. Any member of the community is welcome to join the Neighborhood Watch, which does not practice or tolerate any form of discrimination.

Each volunteer will wear a bright yellow jacket emblazoned with the Neighborhood Watch emblem. Jackets will be paid for by the police and the ward office, not the volunteers. Sgt. Sisk is wearing the jacket in the photo above.

I had to leave early so I missed the discussions and audience Q&A led by the beat facilitators representing Beats 2411, 2412, and 2413. For more information or to become part of the Neighborhood Watch, please contact the CAPS office or your Beat Facilitator:

24th District Community Policing Office: 312/744-6321 or caps24.org

Beat 2411 (Kedzie to Ridge, Pratt to Howard)
Beat Faclitator Richard Concaildi – richconcaildi@aol.com

Beat 2412 (Kedzie to Ridge, Pratt to Devon)
Beat Faclitator Avy Meyers- avy@ureach.com

Beat 2413 (Kedzie to Ridge, Devon to Peterson)
Beat Facilitator: beat2413@caps24.org

 

 

 

 

CAPS News, Part 2

First, two corrections to yesterday’s post:

  1. Regarding issuing tickets for parking in bus stops along Devon, the suggestion was made that the alderman contact the Department of Revenue, not Finance.
  2. I finally uploaded the “No Trespassing” sign that CAPS is making available to residents. Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way.

no-trespass-sign

The CAPS office provided two sheets of tips to prevent various kinds of theft. These are definitely keepers. The first sheet covers general anti-theft tips and ways to prevent thefts from vehicles; the second offers ideas on how to prevent burglaries as well as auto and bicycle theft.

caps-tips-1-of-2523
caps-tips-2-of-2524

Sgt. Sisk also updated the group about the October 8 shooting on the 2100 block of Devon. Both the shooter and his intended target are in custody; two guns were recovered by the police. The woman who was injured in the shooting is recovering.

The next meeting for Beat 2412 is January 3, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. Location TBD.

Any questions or concerns for the CAPS officers can be communicated to them at the 24th District Community Office (312-744-6321), Caps.024district@chicagopolice.org or Twitter @ChicagoCAPS24

 

Free Emergency ID Bracelet for Senior Citizens

The 24th District CAPS office is distributing free ID bracelets to seniors. Each bracelet carries a unique ID number that will identify the wearer in the event of an emergency.

The process is simple: Contact the 24th District Community Relations Office via phone (312/744-6321) or e-mail (caps.024district@chicagopolice.org). Tell them you want to receive an ID  bracelet. You’ll be asked to fill out a form that has your emergency contact info (name, address, DOB, name and phone number of emergency contact, doctor’s name, list of medications, etc.). That information will be securely and confidentially maintained by the CAPS office. You will then receive a bracelet with a unique ID number.

Should an emergency arise, first responders would relay that ID number to the police, who would access the information which you provided, thus ensuring that you are properly identified and the person(s) closest to you are immediately notified.

Thanks to the 24th District CAPS Office and Sgt. Shawn Sisk for providing such a useful service to senior citizens and their families.