Social media escalates gang violence, new Gang Book reports

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The latest edition of the Chicago Crime Commission's Gang Book examines the effect of social media on gang violence. (WLS)

The Chicago Crime Commission gave police an inside look into the influence of social media on street gangs Tuesday with the release of the latest Gang Book.

The Gang Book, a report used as an information sharing tool among law enforcement agencies, shows that gangs use sites like YouTube, Facebook, and other social media platforms to taunt rivals.

The 400-page report was last updated in 2012 and lists 59 gangs and more than 2,400 factions active in Chicago. It also included a detailed turf map.

"Criminals do not have borders," said Lieutenant Dennis Diaz of the Maywood Police Department. "They go from one town, to one town, to one town, and if law enforcement isn't sharing information, one town might miss out on a crime pattern that is affecting a neighboring community."

Chicago Police Department estimates that there are 100,000 gang members in the city, fueling the majority of Chicago's gun violence.

CPD said that violence often starts from conflicts on social media.

"Because they're open posts, a lot of people see them," said CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson. "The one-on-one rivalry explodes into a universe, so everyone else sees it too."

Representatives of the Chicago Crime Commission said street gangs also use social media to glorify their lifestyle by posting photos of themselves with guns, drugs and money.

Assistant Attorney General Shannon O'Brien of the High Tech Crimes Bureau said that gang-related social media accounts are difficult to crack down on because posts are protected by the First Amendment unless they can be proven to show an imminent threat.

Even if accounts are shut down, the same user will likely appear under a new name and photo, O'Brien said.

"These kids generally don't have just one account open, they have 15," O'Brien said. "So you can close down one of them, but they're just going to pop up under a different name, different image. They may not use their own picture in the next one, so it can be very difficult to monitor that."

The Gang Book aims to identify ways that law enforcement can determine the authenticity of gang-related social media posts.

The Gang Book also examines gun trafficking and the expanding presence of gangs in the suburbs, including The Latin Kings, Gangster Disciples, Surenos 13, Maniac Latin Disciples and Vice Lords, according to the Associated Press.

Commission President J.R. Davis told reporters the splintering means street-level gang members "are becoming their own leaders," prompting more block-by-block violence, the Associated Press reports. Vice President Andrew Henning said the book will serve as a gang guide for regional police. He says it'll also help businesses and schools understand threats gangs pose, AP reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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