Relief sought for Chicago gang problem

August 19, 2013 (CHICAGO)

When it comes to gang violence, Illinois is a red state according the FBI's map of worst places in the country. This state may be last in a lot of categories, but when it comes to gangs, we're No. 1.

Senator Mark Kirk is pushing for federal aid to reverse that, surrounding himself with top lawmen from Chicago and the suburbs to fight seemingly insurmountable odds.

"Illinois is number one in per capita gang membership," Kirk said. "For every 1,000 Illinois citizens, six are in a criminal gang. That's the highest in the country."

Kirk wants a federal anti-gang czar for Illinois, and approval of a nearly $20 million local crime fighting package in Congress.

Federal authorities estimate there are 33,000 gangs of all kinds in the United States, with almost 1.5 million members. The Great Lakes and West Coast with the most, as many as 150,000 gang members in metro Chicago, with some jurisdictions attributing up to 90 percent of violent crime to gangbangers.

"The only way that were going to combat that is by being on the front lines with the federal government and the monies and having the intelligence so that we can take down the pyramid scheme and go after the top people," said Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran.

Some top people are in or just out of the military.

The FBI says 53 gangs are known to have military members, both former and active duty members, mostly Army and National Guard.

Regardless of who or where, local police welcome more anti-gang resources.

"Our biggest problem in combatting gang crime in DuPage County is finances and personnel. It would be nice to be able to increase both," said Lt. Frank Viviano, DuPage County Sheriff anti-gang unit.

A federal gang czar here would help coordinate the dozens of task forces that already exist and focus on arresting wanted criminals.

"It's no mystery that one of the first things that we can do to reduce crime is arrest somebody when they are arrestable and not wait for them to commit another crime," said Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

A recent state investigation found that 60 percent of Illinois juvenile offenders were re-arrested within one year of their release from custody and nine of every ten were re-arrested within five years.

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