Last month, the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) took a welcome step toward better community engagement by announcing that it would open an interim satellite office on 53rd Street. The new office, which will not be staffed as a full-time police station, will serve as a “point of contact between the UCPD and the community—a place where [UCPD] can hold small meetings on police matters, or where officers can meet with business owners,” according to UCPD Chief Marlon Lynch. As the UCPD is developing the specific uses of the office, there is much potential for a unique space that can play a pivotal role in bringing together students, business owners, residents, and the police to shape their neighborhood.
Even if the station is not staffed full-time, the UCPD can capitalize on the visibility of the new office to create a forum where residents can have access to more information about crime in their community. The office would benefit from a public information officer to whom residents can go to find out more information about any incident that happened in the UCPD patrol area, which spans from 37th to 65th Streets and Cottage Grove Avenue to Lake Shore Drive. Positioned along what the University hopes will be a major commercial corridor, the new office should make all residents feel as comfortable walking in the UCPD office as they do walking into any business on 53rd Street to discuss their concerns. The UCPD should also take advantage of heavy foot traffic and offer services such as bicycle and laptop registration from which students and residents can benefit directly.
As we have written before, regular community meetings would allow Hyde Park residents to recognize beat officers by their faces and could be the basis for a positive community-police partnership. The UCPD could also hold regular forums in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department, which already hosts monthly public meetings for residents to share and learn about safety concerns. Such meetings would also be an opportunity to highlight the too often overlooked nonstop work that the UCPD does to keep our community safe.
Most significantly, the UCPD can use the new office to help ease ongoing concerns regarding racial profiling, some of which were raised at its fall quarter Leadership Conversation. The new office can serve as a neutral meeting ground where students and community members who feel that they are being unfairly treated can meet with Lynch and beat officers to discuss their concerns. We encourage the UCPD to partner with minority groups on campus and in the community to strive to ensure that every well-meaning person walking down any street in the neighborhood feels welcome.
In the long run, the UCPD should consider making the office on 53rd Street permanent because meaningful engagement simply cannot be achieved on an interim basis. As it considers how the office will be used, the UCPD has a great opportunity to show that it is committed to creating a long-term partnership with all members of our community.
The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.