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Monday, November 22, 2004

Daley's admin cuts already insufficient police coverage of Chicago Housing Authority projects on the South Side.

According to the November 17-23 issue of Streetwise, City Hall has decided to cut back police service to Chicago Housing Authority housing projects. They plan to create an 80-officer special response unit. The remaining 141 officers will be reassigned from specifically covering CHA homes to covering districts that have CHA homes in them.

Daley says the goal is to integrate services so that nearby, non-CHA residents get more coverage, and that CHA residents feel more like a part of the neighborhood because they take their complaints to the district commander, just like everyone else. Terry Peterson, executive director of the CHA, agrees with him on this. Daley also points to the effectiveness (he claims) of targeted special units in reducing gang violence.

CHA residents, though, aren’t so confident about this one. One resident interviewed in the article says that they should wait until the CHA’s redevelopment plan is finished before removing police coverage. He worries that if the redevelopment project fails, reduced police coverage could mean crime levels in CHA projects returning to the horrifying levels they reached during the 80s and 90s. Melvin Johnson, executive director of the Teenage Basketball Association, also points out that CHA projects just need more police coverage than other areas do. He suspects that this is simply a cost-cutting measure, though Daley denies it.

Of course, even the extant, not-yet-reassigned police coverage for the CHA is far from being sufficient. In the July/August issue of The Chicago Reporter, Brian J. Rogal and Mary C. Johns interview a number of CHA residents and found numerous complaints against the Chicago Police Department’s coverage of CHA developments. Most frequently, residents complain that police sit in their cars in front of developments rather than walking around, talking with residents, building trust, and actually stopping crimes. Several residents said it’s common for police covering a CHA project to stay in their cars even when visible drug dealing is taking place within their sight, or when there are radio orders for them to do a building walk-through. Other times, police randomly bother CHA residents (most frequently black males) in the name of stopping crime, rather than bothering to track down the actual criminals. I highly recommend reading Rogal and Johns’s article, "Lack of force", to learn more about this and read the CHA residents’ specific stories of police neglect and abuse.

So, service is already insufficient, and the Chicago Police Department and the Daley administration are cutting it way back. Particularly notable is that they’re only doing this on the south side, using it as a test to see if this program is okay to try on projects in the rest of the city. Streetwise lists the projects receiving cuts as “Robert Taylor homes, 4429 S. Federal; Stateway Gardens, 3653 S. Federal; Hilliard Homes, 2013 S. Clark; Ickes, 2326 S. Dearborn; Ida B. Wells, Pershing Road and King Drive at 39th Street; LeClaire Courts, 4843 W. 44th St.; Altgeld Gardens, 922 E. 131st St.; and Dearborn Homes, 2840 S. State St.” This smacks of Spatial Deconcentration, the planned removal of services from urban areas populated heavily by poor blacks, with the goal of making those areas dangerous and unpleasant places to live and forcing poor blacks to move out into other areas where they will be out of the way, living at lower densities, robbed of the geography of their history, and (in the minds of the arbiters of Spatial Deconcentration) less likely to organize politically. Once poor blacks (or other minorities) are removed from an urban area, rich whites then landbank the areas and make huge amounts of money from demolition, planning, and rebuilding—“urban renewal.” Another facet of Spatial Deconcentration that I frequently see in action is that certain neighborhoods are allowed to become so dangerous (again, by planned removal and restriction of critical services like police and fire protection) that the city outright blames it on the residents of the neighborhood in question and forces them to move elsewhere, like the city of St. Louis is doing right now in the McRee Town neighborhood. The cuts in police service specifically to South Side projects seems like it fits right into this.

When the city selected sites for CHA high rises in the 1950s, they chose broad strips of land which cut through the city and often broke up healthy communities. The projects were designed within these strips both to be isolated from surrounding neighborhoods, and to divide and isolate the neighborhoods from each other. The city’s placement of the projects and the city’s placement of new expressways that were being built at that time were both targeted to isolate poor, heavily black neighborhoods and communities, and to reinforce extant patterns of spatial segregation in the city. The city’s placement of the projects and the expressways are two of the major reasons why even today, fifty years later, the South Side of the city is still predominantly black and poorer, while the North Side of the city is still predominantly white and wealthier. The administration of the city of Chicago’s latest cuts in already insufficient police coverage of CHA projects specifically on the South Side is one more little sign that Daley and the city admin fully intend to continue using public housing in Chicago as a mechanism of discipline, control, and segregation, rather than as a tool of welfare, caring, and positive change.

If you know any more about the reassignment of CHA police, please let us know. I’ve not been able to find much about it, which scares me, because this is a really big deal and people need to hear about it. Once again, Streetwise picks up an important story that everyone else seems to be neglecting.

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