The Chicago Police Department diverted nearly $2.2 million to a private, non-profit agency, which used the money to pay up to 30 civilian workers in the department’s community policing program from 1997 to 1999, an investigation by The Chicago Reporter shows.
The agency, the Chicago Center for Health Systems Development Inc., was spun off from the Chicago Department of Public Health in 1994 to promote public health and supplement the department’s programs. The center had no direct connection to Chicago’s community policing program, officially known as the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy.
Though legal, the transfer of funds effectively made the CAPS positions, whose duties include community organizing and promoting programs, hard to find in the city budget and hidden from public view, the Reporter found. It also shielded them from the 1983 Shakman consent decree, a federal order that forbids the city from requiring employees to do political work. The workers, who were hired as “community organizers,” were not city employees when they were paid by the center, said Jennifer Hoyle, spokeswoman for the city law department.
The center is one of at least two dozen non-profit agencies created with the help of the city since 1986, law department records show. At least 19 of them are still active, and the city put $7.2 million into 10 of them in 1998, the Reporter found. Alderman Helen Shiller (46th) said running some city programs through non-profits can raise troubling questions.
“Why would we go outside of government to create [non-profit] to do something we’re paying for with government?” Shiller asked. “It just sounds strange.”
Ted O’Keefe, project manager of the city’s CAPS Implementation Office, said the center’s police department funds were used to launch a pilot program promoting community policing, and the city made no attempt to cover up how the funds were spent. “I didn’t know anyone was construing it as something that was hidden,” he said.
Spending for the program has always been included in the city budget, but it isn’t very easy to find. In fiscal year 1999, for instance, CAPS money was listed in three different budget lines, said First Deputy Budget Director Russ Carlson.
In 1998, the city of Chicago contributed about $7.2 million to 10 non-profit organizations spun off from city departments. The grants represented 44.6 percent of those organizations’ total revenues that year. Since 1986, 24 city-affiliated non-profits have been created; 19 are still in existence.
Rod Sierra, deputy press secretary to Mayor Richard M. Daley, said such details aren’t important to most taxpayers.
“What residents are concerned about is that we have programs that work,” Sierra said. “CAPS works. They’re not concerned about where every line in the budget comes from.”
The police department approached the center because it had extensive experience running government-funded programs, O’Keefe said. CAPS was a “nice fit” because of the center’s comprehensive approach to public health, he said.
The center did not interview, hire or supervise the CAPS workers, but issued their paychecks from 1997 through 1999, said Patrick Lenihan, deputy commissioner for Chicago’s public health department and the center’s treasurer.
City records show some of the police department funds were funneled through the finance general account of the city’s corporate fund.
“They hide and bury things in finance general,” said Stephen Alexander, director of the Center for Urban Politics and Policy at Chicago State University. He authored a 1998 report on the impact of the city’s budget process on low- and moderate-income communities. “It has been used –¦ for special programs they don’t want people to know about.”
The account includes programs that “cross all department lines,” Carlson said. They include health benefits and city lobbying fees, as well as other programs “you don’t specifically want in one department,” he said.
The CAPS funds were included in the finance general account in 1997 and 1998, but the center is never mentioned. Last year, the city spread its $8.7 million CAPS budget over at least three different sources, Carlson said, including $2.1 million for the CAPS Implementation Office.
“We’re not hiding it. It’s just that if you tried to detail each purpose of every single account, you could go on forever,” he said.
Keeping CAPS workers out of the police department budget gave O’Keefe some “independence” running the program, Carlson said. It also prevented the department from “dipping” into the account for purposes other than CAPS, he said.
O’Keefe said it took three years to test the program and show its effectiveness. The workers began to be shifted to the city’s payroll in October, Lenihan said. That same month, Police Superintendent Terry G. Hillard included the 30 workers in his 2000 budget proposal for the CAPS office.
The 30 community organizers now earn annual salaries of $29,904. The proposal included a total of 96 CAPS workers, at a cost of about $9 million, budget documents show.
CAPS workers do political work, Shiller told the Reporter. She accused CAPS organizer Irma Perres of working for 46th Ward Democratic Committeeman Sandra M. Reed, who unsuccessfully challenged Shiller in last year’s aldermanic race.
Reed said Perres does not belong to her ward organization, but they work together on CAPS-sponsored events. Perres said she needed permission from the CAPS office to comment, which O’Keefe would not grant for this story.
At a Chicago City Council budget hearing Oct. 27, aldermen grilled Hillard and O’Keefe about adding the workers to the police department budget. They were surprised to learn that many of the workers already were being paid through a “contract” with the center–”or that they even existed (see sidebar). Sixth Ward Alderman Freddrenna M. Lyle requested more details about the jobs but told the Reporter she never received them.
Third Ward Alderman Dorothy Tillman complained the money would be better spent on more police officers–”100 could be hired for the cost of the program, Hillard told her. After hours of discussion, Alderman Leslie A. Hairston (5th) still wasn’t convinced the civilian jobs were needed.
“What is the purpose of this?” she commented. “I mean, other than to create, you know, more cushy jobs?”
The Center for Health Systems Development was established to work with the health department, universities and other community groups “to assure the availability of adequate public health and mental health services to underserved areas of Chicago,” according to its mission statement.
It supplements the health department through programs such as day care and parenting help for families in the Robert Taylor Homes public housing development, according to a 1998 financial audit of the agency by Desmond & Ahern, Ltd., a Southwest Side accounting firm.
The center attracts much-needed dollars often reserved for non-profits and sets up experimental programs quickly, Lenihan said. “City bureaucracy requires an awful lot of structure to get anything done,” he said.
The center’s 11 board members include health professionals and public policy experts. Roger McCaffrey, an attorney in private practice, serves as board president. Myer Blank, director of policy analysis for the Civic Federation, a tax watchdog group, said he joined the board in 1995 partly to “get the money out where it needed to be.”
But neither Blank nor Federation President John Currie would comment on whether the center kept CAPS spending hidden from public view. The center’s board is still “in the process of developing the center’s objectives,” Blank said.
In 1996, O’Keefe approached then-center Executive Director Judith Johns, who agreed to pay the CAPS organizers through the center. The center’s CAPS program, according to the 1998 audit, “provides outreach workers to each police district and works with the residents to reduce and address neighborhood crime and violence.”
The police department paid the center $576,010 in 1997 and $857,264 in 1998, according to financial documents filed with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. Each year, the center kept $50,000 for administrative costs, Lenihan said.
The $1.4 million accounted for nearly half of the agency’s revenue over those two years, state records show. The center has not yet filed its 1999 report, but city records show the police department paid the center $801,801 last year. Lenihan said the center planned to spend $1.1 million on the CAPS program in 1999, but came in under budget because the workers began to be transferred to the city budget in October.
But O’Keefe said there is nothing hidden about the community organizers’ jobs. They work with residents to promote CAPS-related programs such as court advocacy, in which volunteers attend court hearings for those accused of committing crimes in their neighborhoods. They also help form block clubs and attend beat meetings, he said.
The organizers never worked out of the center’s third-floor office at 333 S. State St.–”O’Keefe’s office is on the fifth floor–”and spent most of their time on the street, at police district offices or working out of their homes, O’Keefe said.
The police department recently opened satellite offices for the workers in each of the city’s five police areas, he said.
Twenty-eight workers were hired by the city in October, and one already was a city employee, according to a list of their names obtained by the Reporter. One of the positions is vacant. Those hired were required to have bachelor’s degrees in social sciences, or a related degree supplemented by one year of community or social service experience, according to a job notice posted last summer.
Seventeen of the workers are African American, six are Latino and six are white, according to Kristen Lobbins, spokeswoman for the CAPS office.
Organizer Leroy Square worked for the center for one month before he joined the city’s payroll. Square is assigned to the Ida B. Wells public housing development, where he lives, and to the Madden Park, Stateway Gardens and Wentworth Gardens developments nearby.
Lately, he spends much of his work day talking with residents and tenant leaders about the city’s second attempt at an anti-gang loitering ordinance. The U.S. Supreme Court found the first law unconstitutional last June.
Square said he helped Madden Park residents drive drug dealers from an alley near George T. Donoghue Elementary School, 707 E. 37th St. Increased police patrols have reduced traffic and increased safety for children, he said.
Eunice Crosby, president of the Madden Park Local Advisory Council, a resident group, said she’s glad to have Square around now that Chicago police officers have replaced the Chicago Housing Authority police force. “CAPS can serve as a real good liaison,” she said. “There’s a role for everybody to play.”
But Roderick Smith said the only role the center played for him was to issue him a paycheck.
During the six months he worked for CAPS in 1997, Smith said, he was forced to do public relations when he preferred helping residents solve problems. He said he tried to spend his time with block clubs and did help create a video that taught residents how to get rid of rats.
Smith said his police supervisors never gave him direction–”except when he was told to dress up as McGruff the Crime Dog to appear with Mayor Richard M. Daley at a neighborhood festival that summer. He refused. Smith did, however, pass out T-shirts and pens, as directed, at other festivals, he said.
“They pulled all those CAPS workers off–¦ to go down to Taste of Chicago,” he said. “Every single CAPS worker had to do it.” O’Keefe acknowledged the organizers’ jobs focused more on public awareness when CAPS began. Now, he said, “crime has gone down, and awareness and participation is up.”
A 1998 survey of 2,937 adults found 79 percent aware of CAPS, up from 53 percent in 1996. The survey was conducted by the Chicago Community Policing Evaluation Consortium, a group of academic and policy experts that have evaluated CAPS since its inception.
But one CAPS volunteer said she still doesn’t understand what role CAPS workers play. “They haven’t worked directly with us,” said South Shore resident Loretta Moore, a beat facilitator in the 3rd Police District. “I can’t tell you exactly what they do.”
Sierra of Daley’s press office said the workers have always been involved in a range of community activities related to CAPS’ day-to-day operations. And sometimes, he said, it’s important to have workers posted at high-profile events to help get the word out.
“Not 100 percent of the people involved with the program are going to be out solving problems all of the time,” Sierra said. “They may be out promoting the program.”
CAPS workers may be walking a fine line between carrying out city initiatives and engaging in politics, said Cook County Clerk David Orr, who served as 49th Ward alderman from 1979 to 1990.
Smith, for instance, said he collected 700 petition signatures in favor of Daley’s amended fast-track demolition initiative, which was passed in 1998. It allows the city to demolish abandoned buildings–”many in poor neighborhoods–”without lengthy court hearings. Smith also recalled a 1997 CAPS convention at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, where the residents he brought were told to sign a petition supporting the city’s first anti-gang loitering ordinance–”without being told what it was.
“You have a job with the city, but that doesn’t mean you have to toe the party line,” Orr said. “They were being asked to work in the trenches for something every court in the land said was illegal.”
O’Keefe said none of his employees ever complained about such job requirements, nor did anyone say they opposed the law. In fact, he said, CAPS workers are “enthused” at the prospect of having “more tools” to fight crime.
And Hoyle of the law department confirmed that as city employees, the workers may be required to collect petition signatures in support of city policies or bolster city lobbying efforts.
“While these issues have become somewhat politicized, the city has adopted these policies as issues it supports,” Hoyle said. “If you’re working for the city, your responsibility is to carry out city policies and initiatives.”
But Shiller said CAPS organizer Perres crossed the line when she worked in Committeeman Reed’s campaign during the 46th Ward aldermanic race. Shiller said she raised those concerns to O’Keefe but they have not yet been resolved.
O’Keefe said he meets regularly with Shiller but would not comment on specific conversations. Perres, he said, has not done any political work on city time. Reed flatly denied the allegations. “Irma has nothing to do with our organization,” she said. “I wouldn’t even ask her to do that and jeopardize her job.” Hoyle added it is not illegal for city employees to work for candidates when they’re off the clock.
“I reiterate regularly to all of our workers that we are about the work of community policing,” O’Keefe said. “We are not to do any political work.”
The center is one of 24 non-profits that grew out of city departments. Some date back to the late Mayor Harold Washington’s first term. The best-known may be The Arts Matter, which funds Gallery 37, the city’s youth arts program. Law department staff help find private attorneys to aid city departments in setting up the non-profits, Hoyle said. All are subject to state and federal laws governing non-profit organizations, she said.
Some of the organizations work “very closely” with city departments, while others have less direct connections, Hoyle said. They can draw outside funding for programs that benefit city residents. Contributors are more likely to give tax-deductible donations to a non-profit with a mission they understand, she said.
“I just don’t think, in general, people would be comfortable donating to the City of Chicago,” she said.
But in addition to donating office space and staff, city officials still use taxpayer dollars to run programs through the non-profits, the Reporter found. The 10 agencies that receive government funding reported revenues of $16.6 million, of which $7.2 million were city funds.
Some non-profits not affiliated with the city are concerned about competing with government for private funds, said Kristin Anderson, spokeswoman for the Donors Forum of Chicago, an association of grant makers and non-profits. Those concerns have grown as more non-profits spring up from a variety of sources, she said.
“One of the issues it raises is whether there are non-profits already doing what these [city] non-profits are designed to do,” Anderson said. “It’s a matter of working with those organizations rather than starting new ones and reinventing the wheel.”
Now that they are on the city’s payroll, some CAPS organizers have expressed interest in joining the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, according to spokesman Linc Cohen. The union represents between 5,000 and 6,000 city workers.
Contracting with outside agencies is an easy way for the government to reduce salaries and benefits and save money, he said. “It’s not the [non-profits] rising up and taking on work, it’s the city looking to cut costs,” Cohen said.
The issue of the city using private contracts to pay workers has come up before. In a 1994 federal case, a labor union attorney representing several plaintiffs charged the practice violated the terms of the Shakman decree.
From 1992 to 1995, the city used private contracts and temporary agencies to hire employees who worked for the city, often in city offices, under the supervision of payrolled city employees, the plaintiffs charged. The city failed to provide notice of the job openings, as required by the decree, they argued. The case is pending.
But Hoyle said the contracts were used because the positions were for specialized tasks and limited time periods, and were not considered city positions.
If anyone deserves to be paid for promoting CAPS, it should be the program’s longtime volunteers, said Brenda Edmond, another 3rd District beat facilitator. Edmond got involved with community policing in 1994, after one of her sons was shot and killed. She has suffered two strokes since then and cannot work, but continues to volunteer for CAPS.
Over the years, Edmond said, she and her colleagues learned which blocks will organize and which won’t. Too often, she said, paid CAPS workers come to their meetings, give them advice and leave.
“Why didn’t they just hire some of the people that were already there?” she asked. “That’s not fair to the people who have been involved all this time.”
Lobbins of the CAPS office said the job notices are posted publicly and anyone can apply. In fact, she said, several organizers are current or former beat facilitators.
But beat facilitators like Moore have another complaint. Proposed bylaws for CAPS volunteers circulating among their ranks would strip residents of their right to appoint the chair of their district’s advisory council, who works with police to identify and address problems in their communities. According to the proposed bylaws, dated Dec. 7, police district commanders–”not CAPS volunteers–”would appoint the committee heads.
O’Keefe said the proposed rules were being reviewed by police, but he was not aware of any final decision. “We certainly don’t want to do anything that’s going to alienate people who have given us a lot as volunteers,” he said.
Patrick Camden, the department’s deputy director of news affairs, said the by-laws are being circulated by the department’s Patrol Division, partly in an effort to reach “department-wide uniformity.” They are part of a six-month pilot program in two police areas: Area 2, which includes Moore’s 3rd District; and Area 4, which includes districts west of the Loop.
Camden said suggestions from residents will be welcome as the department evaluates the program over the coming months. But, he added, the district advisory councils already report to commanders, along with whomever chairs their council. “It’s not like the commander is picking names out of a hat,” he said. “These are people that are on the committee themselves.”
If residents are alienated, community policing programs don’t do much good, said Prof. Robert R. Friedmann, chairman of Georgia State University’s Department of Criminal Justice, who has studied the programs nationwide. Paid community organizers can help or hinder those efforts, he said, bringing neighborhoods together if used effectively, or wasting taxpayer dollars if they duplicate services.
One positive example, he said, is Boston’s Neighborhood Policing program, which includes paid social workers in about half the city’s police districts.
“It’s important to have the police involved with the community, but that’s not going to change the big picture,” Friedmann said. “Those things are economic, social, racial. Economic development in the neighborhood would do far more to reduce the crime rate than 50 more volunteers walking at night.”
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Contributing: Stephanie Williams. Tameka Brown, Katherine E. Coleman and Lyndee M. Yamshon helped research this article.