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Community Policing – with extra emphasis on “Community”

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People outside of Chicago, Illinois know that Chicago is famous for a few things: its food, its winters, and its crime. In fact, if you’re from Chicago and you visit another state, before they ask you about the food or the winter, they will ask you about the crime. This is quite a dubious distinction for such a beautiful city. Unfortunately, as Chicagoans, we must own that, the same way we must own the very foundation that created such crime, the dreaded R word: racism.

Chicago has made strides to make amends for its role in the segregationist practices that saw communities of color forced into sections of the city that were deprived, which in turn created disadvantages; but it hasn’t done enough. There is a clear line of demarcation between the “haves and have nots” in Chicago, and the research backs up the claim.

According to a 2022 piece by, “Gun homicides in 2019 and 2020 were concentrated in neighborhoods far from the city center that have long suffered from severe disinvestment as a result of white flight, and are now centers of concentrated poverty with predominantly Black residents. [This includes] neighborhoods in the West Side (including Humboldt Park, Austin, West and East Garfield Park, and North Lawndale areas) along with the South and Southwest Sides. So as Chicago’s murder rate increased by 53% from 2019 to 2020 (from 18.9 homicides per 100,000 residents to 28.9), residents in disinvested areas bore the brunt of this burden, while more affluent areas had near-record low levels of murder.”

Enter the Chicago Neighborhood Policing Initiative. Started in 2018 as a radical project to change policing philosophies, it has taken on an air of community building. At least to me, it has. As a Community Ambassador since the inception of the project, I have been involved in efforts to connect both community and police, and community and community.


In the 25th District, where the project launched, there is a wealth of diversity as the district covers some parts of Monteclare, Austin, Belmont Cragin, Hermosa, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square – one of the widest coverage areas for a district in the city of Chicago. Given the geographic distance between endpoints, there is a wide variety of policing issues that must be confronted daily, and as such, the 25th District was the perfect place to launch the Chicago Neighborhood Policing Initiative. But to be successful, community had to be involved.

The initial community residents who were the “OG” Community Ambassadors came from the communities most affected by crime in the 25th District: Austin (where the author resides), Hermosa, Belmont Cragin, and Humboldt Park. This group of people was tasked with not only guiding the project through its infancy but also coming together as a unit to improve relationships across community lines. Crime doesn’t have a zip code! We learned quickly enough that developing relationships on both sides would prove to be a challenge.

To add context to the representation at the table: Austin is predominantly African American, while Belmont Cragin, Hermosa, and Humboldt Park are predominantly Hispanic and Latinx. That’s A LOT of difference at the table. It took some time for us to gel as philosophical differences, religious differences, cultural differences, and physical differences (one of the Community Ambassadors was visually impaired) constantly derailed us. To be clear, these differences were at the same time inter- and intra-cultural. There were many meetings that individuals left frustrated and discouraged, but eventually this gave way to growth, cohesion, and understanding.

Activities where we were able to come to a common consensus, such as norm-setting and agreement building, led us to a space where our meetings could be more productive. This gave way to Community Ambassadors joining one another across community lines to support events and activities in our respective communities, opening the door to being able to be guests for lunch or dinner. It is now common for us to ask each other about “our children, our jobs, what’s going on with our families, and what we are working on next for our communities.” I guess crime has a silver lining after all.

Like everything else, the pandemic derailed the project just enough to make sure our upward trajectory evened out. It was a setback for sure, but fortunately, not for our relationship-building progress. As new community members become Community Ambassadors, they benefit from our having to “figure it out”. And figuring it out led us to understand how to build community with one another and others with different backgrounds.

This includes the Chicago police, who draw most of their ire from those they “serve & protect”. Prior to the Chicago Neighborhood Policing Initiative, community engagement felt a bit one-sided when the Chicago police were involved. That was mostly because there was relatively minimal resident involvement in policing efforts. The Chicago Police Department now understands that it cannot be effective without the community’s input.


The Chicago Neighborhood Policing Initiative is about problem-solving and community building. Community Ambassadors work directly with their DCO (District Coordination Officer) to address public safety concerns. This means ambassadors now have a direct line of communication with the officers that work in their communities. Similarly, it means the officers now have direct contact with an individual that can act as a liaison to the community, someone that can show them the resources that are available in the community and facilitate the building of community relationships. This is the ideal relationship between the two communities, police and community residents, because it makes them one.

Public Safety is all of our responsibility. Together. We have a long way to go in Chicago to dramatically lower crime rates and the ramifications of the racism and segregation that fuels it, but the path toward healthy community building has begun. What was once seen as a project to bring the police and community together has evolved into one where we are also creating bridges across community divides and bringing all communities together. At least to me, and for me, it has.

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Ph.D. Candidate, Deondre’ Rutues, an Independent Sector Bridging Fellow, is the energetic, affable personality that you want in the office. Do not let his good nature fool you, he gets the job done. Naturally inquisitive, his tendency is to ask why, as he believes it is the questions that are not asked that are most pertinent. Having worked for multiple fortune 500 companies Nestle, Coca-Cola, UPS, the 2nd largest correctional facility in the country, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and educating in the 3rd largest school district in the country, CPS, Deondre’ brings a wealth of experience from diverse occupations that allows him to connect with individuals from wide-ranging backgrounds. A burgeoning community leader in Chicago, Deondre’ spends his personal time serving the community of Austin through Northwest Austin Council, being a Former Aldermanic Candidate for the 37th Ward, and committing to Social Justice Advocacy as an organizer for Black Workers Matter and West Side Rising. With an MBA and Master of Arts in Industrial Organization Psychology, Deondre’ has curated a skillset that involves both theory and practical application giving him the versatility needed to produce in any environment. His current profession sees him leading police districts 11, 15, & 25 as a Community Engagement Specialist for NYU’s Policing Project. All said, Deondre’ is a Jack of All Industry, an eclectic thinker, capable of drawing insight from a broad range of life, professional and educational experiences to introduce novel and creative solutions to systematic and often nuanced problems. Oh, and he is the proud father to a very lovely baby girl.

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