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Police-Community Programs Win MetLife Foundation Awards

Good things happen when local police officers build real relationships with people in the neighborhood and partner with community organizations. That’s been known for a long time, and there are specific terms, ideas like “restorative justice” and “racial reconciliation,” that frame out how it works.

“This is exactly how police legitimacy can strengthen our communities and relationships between the community and the police department," said Al Wysinger, first deputy superintendent of the Chicago Police Department regarding North Lawndale Employment Network's police/community partnership.

Eric Young Smith

But like any community-building program, establishing successful police-community partnerships takes time, effort and leadership. Two of the best examples in the country – programs run by LISC partners Enlace Chicago’s Little Village Youth Safety Network (YSN) and the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) – were recently honored as part of the 2014 MetLife Foundation Community-Police Partnership Awards, administered by LISC’s Community Safety Initiative. 

On Dec. 11, at a ceremony at Chicago Public Safety Headquarters, the Foundation presented the Excellence in Gang Reduction and Youth Safety Award to the Chicago Police Department and YSN, and the Excellence in Diversity Inclusion Award to the Department and NLEN. Each group will receive a $15,000 grant to support their ongoing public safety work. 

“As a local resident, I’m proud that two Chicago partnerships have been selected this year to join the distinguished list of MetLife Foundation award recipients,” said Jennifer des Groseiliers, a managing director at MetLife. “Only 11 awards were given nationally, and they were selected from over 500 applicants.”

Breaking bread together

North Lawndale’s three-year-old program, “Building Bridges, Building Connections,” allows citizens returning to the neighborhood from time in prison to sit down over a meal with local police officers. It’s the start of candid discussions that break down preconceptions and mistrust on both sides of the table. 

Enlace Chicago Executive Director Michael Rodriguez attributes LIttle Village's decrease in violent crime in part to stronger police/community partnerships.

Gordon Walek

Run by NLEN and the Chicago Police Department Education and Training Division and Districts 10 and 11, Building Bridges begins relationships that can be crucial in future interactions. “This is exactly how police legitimacy can strengthen our communities and relationships between the community and the police department –and ultimately improve officer safety and efficiency,” said Al Wysinger, first deputy superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. 

Brenda Palms Barber, the CEO of NLEN, said that the biggest “a-ha moment” with the program has been the realization for everyone involved that they have more in common than anyone might have imagined. 

“All of us wake up every morning with the intent of coming home that night to our families,” she said. “And that is where we start the conversations. That’s where these dialogs become so rich and important. Because we’re starting to see one another for the fathers and brothers and sons and sisters and daughters and moms that we are.” 

Data and discussions

The Little Village Youth Safety Network is a coalition of many different neighborhood groups working to prevent youth violence. Together, they provide a wide array of programs that help at-risk youth in Little Village down a positive path, including intensive mentoring, connecting youth and families to mental health resources and engaging youth in community programs. 

The CPD 10th District works closely with Enlace, which manages the network, to provide police data and analytics, such as heat maps and crime statistics, that guide decisions about the programs and evaluate their results. As important, the relationship between the community groups with the local police has opened up better communications and new partnerships. 

“Little Village has seen a gradual decrease in violent crime and homicides over the past decade, which can be correlated with increased work between community groups and the Chicago Police Department over that same time,” said Michael Rodríguez, Enlace’s executive director. 

The Little Village Youth Safety Network offers programs that help at-risk youth down a positive path, including intensive mentoring, connecting youth and families to mental health resources and engaging youth in community programs.

Gordon Walek

As the country continues to react to and reflect on recent grand jury decisions on the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the importance of building stronger, better ties between police and the communities they serve infused the award ceremony with a special meaning.

Palms Barber spoke of the “joy” she felt, knowing that her group’s program is making a difference and can be replicated elsewhere, and Rodríguez too pointed out that this work “should be seen as a model for positive police-community engagement.” 

“Partnerships like those that we’re celebrating today do signal that progress can be made in reconciling differences, overcoming tensions and building understanding when we look at the root issues of our challenges,” said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director, during her introduction to the event. “We appreciate your collective efforts to make Chicago’s communities safer, better places to live.”

 

 

Posted in Safety, Little Village, North Lawndale

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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