Community program helps police find gang members

by Sara Burnett
February 04, 1998

Rivera pointed to an empty baggie lying on the ground, evidence of the rampant drug activity he has witnessed here since he and his family moved to the neighborhood 3 1/2 years ago.

At one point gang members were hiding drugs in the gutter of his garage, he said.

'I approached them and I said, îDon't put that there, because the next time you put it there, I'm going to call the police,'' Rivera said. 'And they did it again, and I called the police. And from then on, they knew that I wasn't going to tolerate it.'

The bust of the Spanish Cobras was due in large part, police say, to community members like Rivera who decided they had tolerated it long enough.

Through monthly Community Alternative Policing Strategy meetings, residents provided the Chicago Police Department with descriptions of offenders, their vehicles and drug transactions that helped police identify the perpetrators and led to last week's bust.

At a press conference last Tuesday, Mayor Richard M. Daley called the arrests a 'textbook example' of how CAPS, the pet project he started in 1993 with former police Supt. Matt Rodriguez, is supposed to work.

'We can't be every place all the time,' said Officer Lance Becvar of the 25th District. If the community members can help the police, it makes it easier for them to solve the problem, Becvar said.

As part of the CAPS program, beat officers work the same area and the same shift each day. Community members say they gain additional comfort from knowing the officers who work in their neighborhoods and from knowing that those officers know them.

'Before CAPS, you'd be calling 911, and you never knew who you were going to get,' said 47-year-old Larry Nazimek, who has lived in the West Logan Square neighborhood his entire life.

'Now, we'll be at a CAPS meeting, and you'll tell the cop about a problem at a certain address, and they'll say, îOh yeah, I've made seven arrests there, but I need to know, where are they keeping the drugs?''

The program works both ways, Nazimek said. Community members help the police, and the police help the community.

Residents say they have noticed a difference here since the bust.. Linda Poleski said Kosciuszko Park, where young people used to stand on the corner and yell to passing cars for 'weed,' is quieter now. She feels safe taking her kids there and walking her dog again.

But they stress that their fight is not over.

'This doesn't happen overnight,' Rivera said. 'It takes time. This is just the beginning, but we won't give up.'

They have reason enough to be defeated, to give up or to move out.

Rivera has had all the windows in his house broken. Before the bust, Poleski watched drug deals take place just feet away from where her two children played. A young boy beat Betty Kendziera's husband with a chain last year because, the boy said, her husband was standing in 'his alley.'

Yet these community activists say they are not afraid of the gangs. To give in to them would be to give up their homes, Nazimek said.

'There are two kinds of people in this world, the movers and the fighters,' he said. 'The movers have already left -- they've gone to the suburbs where they can take their kids to parades and on boat rides. The people who are still here are the fighters.