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Monday, July 21, 2008

CAPS Meeting

I took a couple of neighbors (two from the same family) to our CAPS meeting tonight. I went to give the police a heads-up about the block party. Also, our problem corner has been problematic of late and I wanted someone else from the block besides me to be there.

Turns out I didn't have to worry about the corner not getting discussed. We walked in a few minutes late and it quickly became the hot topic of the night. All the regulars were complaining about litter, loitering, gangbanging, drug sales and intimidation going on over there. Medicine Man was harassed by these guys his next-to-last day here. I was really angry when he told me that--he almost got through the whole year here without incident, and then these jokers showed up.

Interestingly, the landlords of the building where strangers hang out in front all the time arrived shortly after we did. It took me a few minutes to realize they were the landlords at our corner--not sure if I just lost focus or if the constant switching between Spanish and English got me confused.

Although the landlords took a pretty severe verbal beating from some of the regulars who have been coming to this meeting for years and had never met them before, they appeared willing to work with the police on curbing the loitering in front of their building, though they were reluctant to start formal eviction proceedings on a family that seems to have connections with the loiterers. I guess we'll see what happens here.

One of the officers present had looked up the number of calls to police about problems on the corner in the last week, and it was less than 12. Half of them probably came from me--I'm pretty sure I called five or six times last week.

It's tough to decide when to call though, because if they're just hanging out, there isn't much anybody can do, so I don't want to bother a dispatcher. Late at night I'll call about noise and earlier I'll call if it looks like an argument might erupt into a fight, but I can't see well enough from here to know if drug sales are going on.

Afterwards, I asked someone I've made friends with a couple of blocks north if I could call him and his family when I call 911 so they could make an additional call. He said yes. Since I got here I've tried off-and-on to start a phone tree, like the city and CAPS tell you to do, but there are lots of problems with doing this. Some are due to a lack of organization at our beat meeting--every month we all sign in and put down our phone numbers, but I have no idea what ever happens to those sheets. Nobody has ever tried to connect those of us who attend.

Tonight was the first time I've ever gone up and asked someone if they would help me with a 911 call. It's taken nearly four years for whatever combination of building relationship and increasing Spanish fluency for me to get to the point where I felt comfortable doing that. (I used English tonight to ask my neighbor up the street, but we've mostly spoken Spanish up to now.) The family who came with me also agreed to call and gave me their number.

Over the weekend, a friend of mine told me at his CAPS meeting in Little Village a while back, they used to get cell phone numbers for beat officers so they could call up and let them know where to swing by on their shift, suggest what to look for, etc. That's another thing I've never seen here.

Then of course there's the issue of creating enough community that people want to form a phone tree, and helping them get over their fear of retaliation. I got numbers from some families when I held an impromptu block meeting last fall, and they're still up on my fridge, but I have to admit I don't use them. I feel awkward speaking Spanish on the phone to strangers--one family doesn't have working phone service now--lots of times I'm making phone calls at 11 or later and I don't want to wake people up, blah blah blah. Plus one of the moms told me she called the police over something a while back and the next morning, the headlights on her car were broken.

Well, I just put my mini-phone tree to its first test. There are three guys out there on the corner right now drinking 40s and hollering. I called the cops, then I called my two neighbors who said they'd help me out tonight. One didn't answer; the other agreed to call right away. It's a start.

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