Chicago city officials are expanding a program to get businesses to help fight crime in their neighborhoods and to crack down on “problem businesses.”
Each of Chicago’s 22 police districts will get a designated “business liaison officer” who will hold monthly meetings with business owners and be available by cell phone 24 hours a day, city officials announced Monday.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot tied the program to a major campaign promise to revitalize Chicago’s neighborhoods.
“[The business liaisons] are not only going to be eyes and ears that will directly report to the district commander, but help with enforcement and compliance efforts,” Lightfoot said at a news conference Monday at a police station in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. “And so in that way, it’s our hope that this will aid [in] reducing crime in particular neighborhoods.”
The program’s expansion is part of the Police Department’s larger community policing strategy, which is meant to strengthen relationships with residents through efforts that include the Safe Passage schools program and CAPS, or Community Alternative Policing Strategy.
The partnership between Chicago police and the city Office of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection currently exists in the Austin and Grand Crossing police districts on the West and South sides.
In those districts, police said liaisons visit local businesses regularly to encourage owners to attend monthly community meetings and to contact them directly to report recurring problems in their neighborhoods, like loitering, violence or theft.
Anis Abid owns a convenience store down the street from the police station in Greater Grand Crossing. He said he’s experienced some of the program’s benefits, including an invitation to attend his 3rd District community meeting, which he wouldn’t have done otherwise. And he said having his liaison’s personal phone number makes him feel supported.
But he said strengthening ties with local business owners alone isn’t enough.
“If the relationship between the community and the police isn’t good, then you’re going to hurt the business by having police presence,” Abid said. “[Police] have to have a good relationship with the community first.”
As part of the program expansion, business liaisons also will hold “violence deterrence” meetings meant to address ongoing problems with specific “problem businesses,” described as a business where crime frequently occurs in or around the business property.
That piece of the initiative is of concern to Abid, who said police have in the past blamed him when crimes take place outside his convenience store.
“If something happens at the intersection, they blame the store, because they say people wouldn’t be here if we didn’t open,” he said.
City officials reiterated several times Monday that the purpose of the program isn’t to close problem businesses, but to identify possible solutions before pursuing enforcement.
“We want to be very clear, this new initiative does not set out to punish businesses that are having trouble remaining in good standing,” Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at the news conference. “Instead, we’re bringing them to the table as partners.”
Officials said the agendas for violence deterrence meetings will be based on the frequency of crime and complaints from the community.
Mariah Woelfel is a producer for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.