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Homegrown Honor

Chatham art installation recognizes first responders where they live and serve

As a child, Nedra Sims Fears would take a sobering ride to a Joliet cemetery.

Her father, a police officer, was shot and killed in an armed robbery more than five decades ago. "Unfortunately, he was killed in the line of duty, and every Memorial Day we would get dressed up and go to the cemetery. I always felt that I wanted to honor him in the place where he lived and served; I think there's power in seeing how many people served before him," said Fears, executive director of the Greater Chatham Initiative.

This year, she finally didn't have to leave the neighborhood to honor him.

His name and years on watch — Osbourne Sims, 1954–1956 — can be found in a sea of 200 placards in the "We Honor You" art installation, erected in Brown Memorial Park, 634 E. 86th Street.

The memorial, which will be displayed annually, with plans to grow it each year, currently includes only a fraction of the "more than 1,600" firefighters, paramedics and police officers that are connected to that community, Fears said. "This was our attempt to start this annual event. We appreciate the first responders that are here because we know Memorial Day is a high-demand day for your service," she told those who attended the inauguration of the installation.

"It's important that we do it here, in this park in particular, because this park is named after a fallen firefighter," said Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th ward). "I can't reiterate enough 'thank yous' for your service and what you do here every day. You're the ones that are walking into trouble when we're all trying to get out, so we honor and thank you, in particular, those of us who have lost ones in the line of duty, whether it be police, firefighters or paramedics, any one of those first responders."

Fourth District Police Officer Blanca Moya, who lives in her district, left her teaching position a little more than a year ago to become an officer. She found the "We Honor You" event to be a defining and definite reminder that what she does matters.

"This is amazing, just to see people who support the police. This is when it's like, 'It's worth what we're doing,'" she said, remarking that she hasn't regretted her decision at all. "I like working in my community. I love my job and I don't see the negative: I just see I get to help people, I see what I can do for them."

Scott Roberts, who lives in Hyde Park but whose childhood home is just a few blocks away from Brown Memorial Park, was blown away by the art installation.

"This is a fantastic idea; I like the idea of the accessibility to the community, and it's something other communities can do," he said. "And it doesn't just have to be on Memorial Day."

Editor's note: The Greater Chatham Initiative is making "We Honor You" an annual event; the next observance will be held May 18, 2019.

This is a post related to the Police Reform and Community Relations strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities. 

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GAPA Recommends Community Safety Oversight Board

Following release of the Police Accountability Task Force report in April 2016, several foundations came together to support a critical next step in the reform effort – the community engagement process that would shape a recommendation for a community oversight board.

The Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) conducted an extensive community engagement process in developing its proposal for the community safety oversight system envisioned in the 2016 Task Force report. It held more than 100 meetings and other forums that were attended by thousands of Chicago residents in neighborhoods across the city. It studied police accountability systems in other major U.S. cities and consulted with national experts, to ensure that Chicago learns from the experience of others.

The foundations supporting GAPA's community engagement process made the following comment on the group's proposal:

"The principles of increased public safety and greater trust between police officers and Chicago residents guided GAPA's process and are embodied in the proposal that now becomes the focus of public discussion and debate about how best to achieve those goals. We hope that GAPA's thoughtful recommendations serve as the starting point for a robust and productive citywide debate about the best way forward."

The following were acknowledged in the GAPA report as providing financial support:

Alvin H. Baum Family Fund

Borealis Philanthropy

The Chicago Community Trust

The Field Foundation of Illinois

Irving Harris Foundation

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The Joyce Foundation

Polk Bros. Foundation

Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Woods Fund Chicago

This is a post related to the Police Reform and Community Relations strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities. 

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Chicago Fighting Crime L.A.-style

Sean Malinowski was invited by Supt. Eddie Johnson to help the Chicago Police Department (CPD) create new, high-tech crime-fighting centers. Malinowski, a former lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department who adopted predictive analysis as a way to prevent shootings, was tapped to help build Strategic Decision Support Centers (SDSCs) with the University of Chicago. At the support centers, cops and civilian analysts monitor gunshot detectors, surveillance cameras and other data to pinpoint where crimes occur and where they might happen next, according to the Sun-Times.

Malinowski oversaw the opening of the CPD's support centers in the Englewood and Harrison districts in February 2017. Four other districts — Gresham, Deering, Ogden and Austin — got the centers later in the year. Six more are supposed to open by the end of this year. As the centers opened, the numbers of violent crimes fell. Shootings in Englewood dropped 35 percent in 2017. Murders declined by 15 percent across Chicago.

Meantime, civilian analysts from the University of Chicago were flown to Los Angeles to learn how the situation rooms work there. When they returned, they worked alongside Chicago cops.

The support centers are $1.5 million rooms inside police stations. Information from ShotSpotter gunshot detectors and surveillance cameras is displayed on large monitors. Beat officers have real-time access to the information via cellphone and in-car computers, alerting them to the spot where a shooting occurred.

Cops on the street began realizing the nerve centers could tell them what was happening at a crime scene before they rolled up in their cars — or that a shooting had just occurred at an intersection blocks away from them.

As part of the new program, district commanders also encouraged officers to do more community outreach to get citizens involved after decades of mistrust, Malinowski says.

This story is about the Police Reform and Community Relations strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities. 

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CPD Reforms Underway

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) is adding management-level positions to oversee reform and strategy. The newly-created positions will be charged with implementing a strategic plan for the police department and making sure reforms are delivered by specific deadlines, according to the Sun-Times. CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson acknowledged the civilian jobs are a break from the past for the police department.

"For a long time, CPD and law enforcement probably all over the country, never really embraced civilian experts in terms of doing things of this nature. What we're good at is fighting crime and locking up bad guys. What we're not good at is long-term strategies in terms of the direction that the organization may go," the superintendent said.

"We made a commitment to change the way CPD does business and to put these reforms into place. We weren't just saying we were going to do it. We're actually going to do it. So this is just another mechanism for us to ensure that we're basically policing ourselves. I need the sworn personnel to focus on the crime fight. For so long, what law enforcement would do is pick a police officer and say, 'You're in charge of this' with little or no expertise."

In related news, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan launched a website allowing the public to have a say in CPD reform. Madigan's office says the public input will help inform the court-ordered oversight of CPD, also known as a consent decree, according to the Associated Press.

These stories are about the Police Reform and Community Relations strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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Predicting Murders: CBS's 60 Minutes

The Chicago Police Department is using an experimental computer program to predict murders -- and prevent them.

Calling the results "uncanny," the department said the predictive policing computer program spits out the names of those most likely to shoot or be shot. With those names in hand, police are actively intervening and saving lives, according to CBS's 60 Minutes.

"The goal of this operation is keep people alive. That's number one. Number two, keep them out of prison or jail," said Executive Director of Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy Chris Mallette.

While the program has drawn mixed reactions in the community, Ernest Smith, whose past put him atop the program's Strategic Subject List, is being held as a prime example of what can be accomplished using it.

"I got enemies, you know what I'm saying. They don't like me, you know. I mean it's all a part of growing up in Chicago," said Smith, of the West Side.

Learn more about the program by watching the 60 Minutes segment.

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Young People and Police Start Talking at Elijah’s House


Elijah's House kicked-off their anti-violence activities in August with an event to mend the walls of communication between Chicago's youth and the Chicago Police Department. Venita Williams, Executive Director and planner of this event, said the idea was born from conversations staff members often had with teens about their daily concerns. They found that many teens had questions about the state of their communities and wanted to know the roles these officers played:

"…it was something that youth were always asking about… 'why did this happen,' 'why am I perceived a certain way,' 'why are there drugs in my school,' or 'why am I targeted when I dress a certain way?"

The idea to host a round table conversation where Chicago police officers and young people from the community could sit down and discuss the issues face to face was born from these questions.

Elijah's House staff understood that youth involvement in the process would be essential to achieving a successful event and their desired outcomes. With this in mind, they identified several avenues for young people to influence the event profoundly. First, students from the culinary program were recruited to cater the event. They spoke with their peers and planned a menu that both the police officers and the students would enjoy. Next, students from the journalism and broadcasting program conducted field research on youth violence, focusing their efforts in Humboldt Park. They wrote short articles on their findings and published them in Urban Teen Magazine which is produced by Elijah's House. Their findings led to several follow up questions that later became core questions in the round table conversation.

On the day of the Round Table, students stood outside peeking through the crack between the closed doors. Once open, they rushed through to the registration tables, where they found personal name tags and their seating arrangements. As students grabbed food and took their seats, officers from the 11th and 15th districts arrived dressed in plain clothes and began mingling with the teens. Each table was composed of 8 to 9 youth and one officer; there was no facilitator or another adult present. The youth had full control over the dialogue and eagerly dove into their questions.

As staff walked the room, there was a sense of calm as the intimacy and openness of the conversation allowed for an amplified safe space for honesty and the ability to converse with ease. Venita Williams, Executive Director of Elijah's House, observed, " have these kids perceiving authority one way, but then they're reconnecting in a different way." Williams says even the shyest kids had something to say. As the event went on, the topics of their conversation broadened to include favorite school subjects and auto parts, as the youth and officers began getting to know one another on a more human level.

The feedback on the Round Table was unanimous amongst students and officers; both identified that there is a need for these conversations to continue. The goal of this event was to improve the interactions between officers and teens. However, Elijah's House recognizes that this is only the beginning. To truly make an impact, conversations such as this must continue, as it is important these relationships are maintained. For Williams these connections can and will truly make the difference:

"…If I say hi to you every day, you begin to know me. And I begin to build that familiarity; then I do begin to feel safe within my community. I do know that if something happens, I have a direct link to an individual who can make an impact, who can help me turn a situation around."

Elijah's House hopes that similar Round Tables will spring up in other communities to further the conversation and engagement amongst the youth and the Chicago Police Department. For more information on their event, including a video check out the Elijah's House website in the coming weeks at

This is a story about the Promote Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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Introduction to the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities


Chicago's gun violence crisis requires all of us to make community safety a priority. Last year, following a decade of progress in reducing violence, Chicago suffered 4,368 shootings and 764 homicides, a level of violence unheard of since the 1990s. The trend continues in 2017. It must stop, and all of us have a role to play.

There is so much to do, but it is heartening that so many are stepping up to meet the challenge. Families, community and religious leaders, church groups, local organizations and others are working to make blocks and neighborhoods safer throughout the city. Organizations are reaching out to individuals at risk of violence with jobs and services. Reforms are underway at the Police Department. Adding to these urgent responses is the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a coalition of more than 30 Chicago funders and foundations committed to aligning their funding to support proven and promising approaches to reducing violence.

Starting in 2016, informed by longstanding work by many organizations—large and small—to address root causes of gun violence, several foundations supported the operations of the Police Accountability Task Force and made direct investments in more than 120 neighborhood organizations in communities most affected by violence. As the Partnership has grown, members have invested in additional strategies.

Our hope is that by coming together to support work across Chicago, especially in communities at greatest risk, we will help strengthen programs and lay the foundation for a meaningful reduction in gun violence over the next two to three years. Members of the Partnership are working together to coordinate their individual investments in four key strategies:

  • Intervening with likely victims and perpetrators through street outreach, constructive policing interventions, cognitive behavioral therapy and jobs.
  • Increasing legitimacy for and effectiveness of the Chicago Police Department through improved training, better police-community relations, greater community voice in the design and operations of police accountability structures, and other reforms.
  • Strengthening gun laws to reduce the availability of illegal firearms.
  • Supporting 120 grassroots community-based organizations for events and projects in 2017 across 17 Chicago community areas to foster stronger community bonds, crowd out violence and promote constructive engagement with law enforcement.

To date, members have committed more than $30 million to support and coordinate work on these strategies. Along with commitments from many other groups, and ongoing investments from city, county, state and federal government agencies, the greater Chicago community is responding to the crisis of gun violence, and we can all help. Still, the magnitude and urgency of the challenge demand much more.

We know you are someone who cares deeply about Chicago's future. If you are an employer, you can hire young people at risk. If you are a community leader, you can help improve police-community relations. If you are a health care provider, you can support trauma-informed care to gun violence victims. If you are a funder, you can support any one of these efforts. Whatever you do, your voice matters when you speak up in support of policies that can make our neighborhoods safer.

In the months ahead, we will keep you informed about ongoing Partnership activities and Chicago's progress in reducing gun violence. We are working on a website that can serve as an information hub, and will let you know when it is live. In the meantime, if you have questions, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

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Everyone who cares deeply about Chicago’s future can play a role.

If you are an employer, you can hire young people at risk. If you are a community leader, you can help improve police-community relations. If you are a health care provider, you can support trauma-informed care to gun violence victims. If you are a funder, you can support any one of these efforts. Whatever you do, your voice matters when you speak up in support of policies that can make our neighborhoods safer. Reach out to learn more.

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