Police: New gang violence strategy starting to work

October 26, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Police say dozens of members of one gang were arrested following the August shooting death of a teenager.

Back in the end of August it was revealed that police superintendent Jody Weis had met with a small number of alleged gang leaders to tell them to stop the shooting or we're coming after the whole gang.

There was criticism of that meeting, which police refer to as a "call-in." Some called it "negotiating with urban terrorists." Police insist it wasn't negotiation; it was an ultimatum, and they have been anxious since to demonstrate that the ultimatum has teeth.

Two weeks after the police superintendent forewarned a small group of gang leaders about the new strategy came a murder. Eighteen-year-old Anthony Carter was shot to death near his West Side home. A day later police arrested and charged Sharod Pierce, a reputed member of the Black Souls Street Gang, with the murder.

And then they turned up the heat. In two months time they arrested 60 alleged members of the Black Souls Gang, not in connection with the murder, but for drug and weapons charges, most of them felonies.

About half of those arrested remain in jail. One of the alleged gang members in that mid-August surprise meeting with Weis was among the 60 who where arrested.

"We wanted to come out quickly and show that in two months time we arrested 60 people and put them in jail, which is phenomenal, and that is the hammer aspect," Weis said, "telling the gang, if you shoot someone, kill someone, this is gonna happen."

A gang member gets pinched for a serious crime and the law puts the squeeze on the whole gang. That is most definitely not a new concept, but only within the past decade has it emerged as an organizational strategy.

Criminologist David Kennedy says he learned it from street cops and has become the idea's chief disciple.

"When the gang individuals learn that when someone 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 every simple," said Kennedy.

The plan has significantly reduced homicides in Boston, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, but Chicago has challenges on a much larger scale.

So far the violence reduction strategy is a pilot project in the West Side 11th Police District. Lorraine Sonya would like to see it grow. She lost a nephew and grandson to gun violence, and she made a personal plea during that first "all-in.

"I tried to express to them that I'm tired of our babies dying for nothing," said Sonya.

Because it has dramatically reduced homicides in other cities does not mean it's a blueprint for success in Chicago. The street gang population is much larger, and to build criminal cases that will truly have impact requires an extraordinary amount of investigative time and effort.

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