Quiet Warrior: How one cop is working to bridge the divide between police and residents in one of Chicago's toughest neighborhoods
Officer Jennifer Maddox established Future Ties to provide a safe place for children to gather and is working to build positive relationships in the community
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By Rachel Zoch for Police1 BrandFocus
Officer Jennifer Maddox believes that policing means service. A 21-year veteran of the Chicago Police, Maddox joined the force after counseling adolescents coming out of the juvenile justice system. She wanted to do more to help the community and saw policing as a more effective way to serve.
Now, more than two decades in, Maddox says she loves her job because she can engage directly with people and try to help them. She has been especially engaged with the residents of the Parkway Gardens Apartments for the past decade.
Building Trust on the Beat
When Maddox started patrolling in the Third District, a tough neighborhood on the South Side, her beat included the densely populated Parkway Gardens Apartments and a lot of calls for service, many of which involved children.
Most of Parkway’s residents were skeptical of police and avoided her. Maddox, undeterred, took a part-time job as a security guard at the property to learn more about the community and build relationships with the residents.
Little by little, Maddox gained their trust, and a few residents began talking to her. She quickly realized that the kids who lived there had nowhere to go and nothing to do but get into mischief and worse, so she set about finding a place for them to gather safely and constructively.
In 2007, she secured the keys to a basement room, stocked it with snacks and board games and hung a sign on the door declaring it the home of Future Ties, a safe place for Parkway’s kids to gather.
It took a while to catch on, said Maddox, because the kids still knew she was a police officer. But after the first few came to check it out, word spread quickly.
“Once I started walking the property and then buying snacks and juices and chips, the kids started coming down and peeking in,” she said. “And then after a while, it got to be overwhelming because I had over a hundred kids coming in at one time.”
Future Ties Takes Root
Maddox was managing Future Ties all by herself, on her own dime and her own time. She was running out of space and needed helpers to develop the program into something more structured and keep it running while she continued her full-time police job with CPD as well as her part-time security gig.
With the help of the Department of Human Services, she recruited some of the mothers who lived in Parkway Gardens to help out and shifted the program’s focus to after-school activities. In 2011, she registered Future Ties as an official not-for-profit organization, paving the way for fundraising.
Since then, Future Ties has grown and evolved and served hundreds of children, partnering with various community groups along the way. This summer, 30 teenagers are participating in a new summer camp, learning workforce skills, social skills and life lessons in dating, money management and conflict resolution.
They are also building relationships with other Chicago Police officers through a program called Bridging the Divide, which brings in local beat officers and community policing officers to build trust and help the kids feel more comfortable talking to the police.
Service Over Citations
Reaching out through Future Ties marked a shift from the way Maddox had originally approached policing. Much of her training had been geared toward punitive measures like tickets, citations and arrests.
But when she learned more about the Parkway Gardens community, she saw that many people were struggling, trying to do their best but having a hard time making do with very limited means.
“I just started looking at things from a different perspective,” she said. “A lot of times, things that are happening in their households come from economics – no food, no clothes, no this, no shelter, my lights are off. There’s got to be more to policing than locking people up and writing tickets.”
Maddox admits it took her a while to recognize that the people she was arresting were coming back home to the same issues that led to their arrest, but she decided it would be smarter to try to help people make better choices.
She describes her mission as helping to “heal the block,” and she’s willing to do whatever it takes, including things like giving someone a ride to work or to school to help keep them on a positive path.
“Policing is a true service, and sometimes it’s more than just the lock ‘em up, arrest ‘em, write a ticket stuff,” she said. “... Maybe that’ll be one less domestic call we get because that’s a household we helped stabilize a little bit.”
Looking to the Future
Now, nearly all of the 3,000 residents of Parkway Gardens know Officer Maddox, and many call her if they need help or advice – or to report something they think the police should know.
Maddox says the trust she’s developed through Future Ties makes things easier when police respond to a call at Parkway Gardens, and she now she’s helping other officers build those important relationships in the community to spread the goodwill. A handful of her CPD colleagues volunteer with Future Ties, and she’s introducing residents to new officers through the Bridging the Divide program.
“I’m not going to be around all the time, and I want them to understand that there are plenty of officers out here that they can trust,” she said. “We only hear about the ones who are not doing what they’re supposed to do. ... I want them to start building and establishing relationships with other officers, and I know I’ve got to be that bridge to bring them in.”
Maddox, now working in the Chicago PD Office of Community Affairs, has retirement in her sights a few years down the road. Once she pulls that pin, she says she wants to dedicate herself to Future Ties full-time.
“There’s such a need,” she said, adding that the property management company for Parkway Gardens wants to expand Future Ties to its other properties in the city.
Even with fundraising and some support from the management company, Maddox still works a second job to support Future Ties. “Sleep is a mystery,” she says, but she remains dedicated to the service-driven mission she started a decade ago.