‘COP House’ plan gets go-ahead on Chicago’s Far South Side

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John Byrne, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read
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A Far South Side alderman may get an outpost for Chicago police in a house located in a high-crime area after all, as part of a two-year program despite Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s opposition to his plan for a more permanent setup.

Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, one of Lightfoot’s most outspoken council critics, has long wanted to establish the community-oriented policing house, or “COP House,” in a house in the Roseland neighborhood.

Giving officers a staging area in a house where nearby residents could get to know them and conveniently voice complaints would allow police to respond more quickly to problems and improve the strained relationship between them and the community, Beale has argued.

But after Lightfoot laid out her opposition last week in a letter to Beale, aldermen instead advanced a two-year pilot program that the administration will support as long as he can find appropriate private funding to pay for it for the duration, and police officials agree that his plan will ensure the safety and security of officers in the COP House.

The compromise is a win for Beale, who on Tuesday said the program will improve safety in a part of Roseland that has seen multiple shootings, and could serve as a community center of sorts for kids and other local residents to meet to play games and enjoy other activities.

“We know our wards, our commanders know our wards and our districts,” Beale said.

A private funder will rehab the house, and then the Police Department will lease it from the group, Beale said. He has declined to name the funder but said he would do so after the full City Council approves the ordinance.

The Public Safety Committee approved the plan, and the full council will consider it Wednesday.

The detente came after several days of back and forth between the mayor and the alderman.

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Though Beale’s original COP House ordinance said the office would be funded “in whole or in part” through private funding, Lightfoot expressed concerns about the budget implications.

She raised questions about how the safety of the officers at the house would be ensured, and said the outpost seems to clash with the city’s prevailing community policing policy.

“Community engagement simply cannot be imposed from the outside, but must be borne of respectful dialogue about what will work in each situation,” Lightfoot’s letter to Beale reads in part.

And Lightfoot’s hand-picked police superintendent, David Brown, also came out against the idea, citing financial and officer safety questions.

Beale responded Monday with a letter of his own, rebutting the mayor.

“We share your concern for transparency,” his letter to Lightfoot reads in part. “Not only will the budget be made public but so will the source of funds and expenditures, with monthly public reports, obviating the need for lengthy FOIA fights with the media or the public.”

“I must say that I am surprised by some of your questions: ‘What will protect the officers’ safety?’ Isn’t the more important question: ‘How can we help the officers protect the community’s safety?’ That is what my constituents and the officers of the 5th District (and I expect the entire police force) care about.”

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne