Chicago's top cop vows to keep pressure on gangs

February 20, 2012 5:27:26 PM PST
Garry McCarthy is not the first Chicago police superintendent to warn gang leaders that all of their members would be held responsible for the violent actions of one.

Unlike his predecessors, however, McCarthy says he isn't simply flooding hotspots for a few days or weeks. He vows to keep up the pressure on the city's most ruthless gangs long-term.

More than 40 years ago, the street corner at Rockwell and Potomac in the Humboldt Park neighborhood gave birth to the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang.

"It's significantly changed over the years as I grew up around this area," said Milagros Soto, Humboldt Park resident. "There's less gang violence that I've seen because people are becoming more aware."

Police say their strategy, deployed in the area in recent months, of saturation coverage and constant contact with known gang members is working.

"Whenever there are gang member that are known to us loitering on the corners we do street stops. So it's a lot of aggressive patrol that's taking place here," said Sgt. Felipe Reyes, Chicago Police Department.

The focus on the gang began in June after a Maniac Latin Disciple foot soldier hunting a rival gang-banger accidentally shot two young girls, ages 2 and 7.

"Because an MLD walks into a park and fires at a rival gang member and hits these girls, that entire group becomes accountable for the behavior of one," said McCarthy.

"Through informants that we have, we know that their basic standing order is to lie low as much as possible. So they're feeling the heat and have been feeling it for months," said Deputy Chief John Escalante, Chicago Police, Area 5.

Police say proof of that is a drop in the number of calls about gang disturbances in the beat that is home to Maniac Latin Disciples. In the second half of 2009, there were 156. 2010 had 144 reports of gang activity. The same period last year saw just 56.

Whether gang leaders have truly learned a lesson or are simply waiting out the police remains to be seen.

"We can't just stop the violence in the short term and walk away and the declare victory. That's what law enforcement has done wrong. This is a long term vision towards changing the conditions on the street which will in fact change the crime rate over the long term," said McCarthy.

Law enforcement sources believe there are as many as 2,750 local members of the Maniac Latin Disciples. In the last nine months, police have arrested 1,800 of them. That touches to the other problem police are working with prosecutors on: the revolving door of the justice system which sometimes has gang members back on the streets with days of their arrest.