Special Segment: Gang Squeeze

August 9, 2011 8:27:24 PM PDT
It's an old concept, but a comparatively new crime-fighting technique in Chicago: If someone in a gang commits a murder, police put pressure on the whole gang.

It goes by the fairly generic term "violence reduction strategy." It was started a year ago when then-superintendent Jody Weis told a group of parolees and gang members that the next murder connected to gang would bring that gang a lot of heat. Weis was accused of negotiating with urban terrorists, but in reality it was an ultimatum, and the new superintendent is now running with the same ball.

Violent crime is not a stranger on the 4700-block of West Van Buren. On May 20, Henry Taylor, who lived on the block, was shot and killed. Though they do not have the alleged shooter in custody, police have identified him as a member of a street gang faction called the Internal Undertaker Vice Lords. In the weeks that followed the murder, police have put the squeeze on members of that gang, arresting 39 of them on wants, warrants, weapons and narcotics violations.

"They were told in a meeting, 'Gout and put down your guns because the next time it happens, this is what we're going to do,' " said Chicago Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy. "It's like parenting, you tell a kid, 'Don't do that.' They do it again, they get in trouble. They do it again, they get in trouble again."

The concept is old, but as an organizational crime-fighting strategy, it is comparatively new. And in some cities like Boston, which started it in the mid-90s, it has contributed to a drop in the homicide rate.

"When the gang understands that when somebody does a stupid respect homicide that everybody in the gang that is doing crimes is going to pay for it, the gang starts to police itself. It's very simple," said John Jay College Of Criminal Justice Professor David Kennedy.

But it's not just making a flood of arrests. When a gang member goes to jail, there is almost always someone to take his place on the street.

The more important component is convincing members of a community that they have a stake in fighting crime.

Last Friday night, two blocks from where Henry Taylor was killed two and a half months ago, police invited neighbors to come and talk, have some food, meet the new boss, and learn about the violence reduction strategy.

But only a handful came.

Some told ABC7 they weren't aware of the event, but even if they were, they weren't keen on going.

"I'm a little disappointed there's not more community. We got to do a better job. I don't know what's going on," McCarthy said.

Part of it is fear and trust. Too much of one. Not enough of the other. LaDonna Smith came though. She knew Henry Taylor, and three years ago her own son was murdered.

"There's people around here that make anonymous phone calls. Because we are scared. We don't want to be retaliated on, but we do want the violence to stop," said Smith.

The beat cop is at the heart of this strategy. They know the streets and ultimately deliver the message that violent crime has group consequence.

"Once they see the first consequence, it then can affect the future, the future acts of that gang, which is what I believe the VRS is focused on," said Chicago Police Officer Tom Hamilton.

Hamilton works violence reduction strategy in the South Side 6th District. It will be expanding from there and the West Side 11th, where Taylor died.

"We want to take it wherever we need it," said McCarthy. "I'm confident is works, and it's gonna become a philosophy of this agency."

The arrests of the three-dozen-plus Internal Undertaker Vice Lords is the second so-called "gang take-down" since this program began last year. Another is coming.

To be sure, gang members, particularly those arrested for drug dealing, bond out of jail fairly quickly, but the arrests are meant to disrupt operations and discourage, in a big way, violent crime.

Researchers say there is a causal link between VRS and a drop in violent crime in other cities where it has been in use, and Chicago's numbers are trending in that direction.

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