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March on Chicago Lawn District Police Station Becomes Friendly Conversation

By Evan F. Moore | November 29, 2015 9:50am
 Activist Geoff Watts and his wife Donna were among a handful of neighbors who spoke with Sgt, Nicole Clark at the Chicago Lawn District office Saturday.
Activist Geoff Watts and his wife Donna were among a handful of neighbors who spoke with Sgt, Nicole Clark at the Chicago Lawn District office Saturday.
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DNAinfo/Evan F. Moore

CHICAGO LAWN — Activists organized a march Saturday to the local police district office — but instead of chanting outside as many protesters have done this week, they sat down for a conversation with a police sergeant.

The march was billed as a way to pressure the Chicago Lawn District police to improve community relations and investigate the "corrupt way" Laquan McDonald's shooting was handled. McDonald was shot in the Chicago Lawn District, which roughly covers 8700 South Cicero to Interstate 55.

Instead, the Saturday afternoon protest at 3420 W. 63rd St. turned into an impromptu meeting between a handful of community members and police officers to discuss community relations.

 Community activists Kingdom Sanders and Geoff Watts went to the Police Department's Chicago Lawn District office to speak with officers about increasing the number of CAPS meetings.
Community activists Kingdom Sanders and Geoff Watts went to the Police Department's Chicago Lawn District office to speak with officers about increasing the number of CAPS meetings.
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DNAinfo/Evan F. Moore

Activist Geoff Watts said that the polarizing climate in Chicago between the black community and police prompted him to go with a tactic he used years ago when the police and the community had a better relationship.

“Due to the federal investigation going on, they can’t talk [ about the Laquan McDonald footage] anyway. What can I do? I have to create something that’s progressive,” Watts said. “I had to step forward and have a better relationship and repair the damage that’s been done. White officers have to get to know African-American youth better.”

Among the topics discussed, Watts wanted to see an increase in the number of CAPS meetings, part of the city's community policing strategy. He said that typically only third-shift officers attend the meetings, which means the two other shifts of officers don't get to know people in the neighborhood.

Watts, who’s known in Chicago hip-hop circles as “Dr. Groove,” along with musician/activist Kingdom Sanders, spoke with Sgt. Nicole Clark for about 30 minutes.

Sanders, who was a youth worker for the now defunct Chicago Alliance For Neighborhood Safety, said he was prepared for a much more abrasive approach.

"Back then, we would have police officers do role-playing with us to show them how to interact with black youths,” Sanders said. “Sometimes the police would make assumptions before they got out of their car. That’s the problem we have right now. People don’t see officers as humane anymore.”

According to Sanders, the Chicago Alliance for Neighborhood Safety was the pilot program for CAPS.

“We had good relationships with officers like Howard Lindsay and Charles Ramsey,” he said, referring to two officers who have left the precinct. Ramsey is a former deputy Chicago Police superintendent.

According to a WBEZ report from July, CAPS meeting attendance is down more than two-thirds since 2002, and there's been a dip since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office. The number of meetings has been cut significantly. Over an extended period of time, the city cut overtime for officers who attended CAPS meetings, WBEZ reported.

Clark told the activists that third-shift officers are the ones who could make the CAPS meetings, which are held at night.

“Officers are people like anyone else. They want to spend time with their families after work,” Clark said.”I gave them [Sanders and Watts] the contact info for the supervisors for the other two shifts.

According to Clark, the Chicago Lawn District has about 300 officers, along with 50 tactical unit officers, to cover three shifts.

“Officers would rather respond to calls. When officers are called to respond to the scene, people want them to respond as soon as they can,” she said, meaning that officers are sometimes better utilized in the field rather than at meetings.

She did not say whether the district could hold more CAPS meetings.

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