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Same crime strategy, different outcomes in two neighborhoods

Residents say th1900 block S. Troy Street Westside Chicago has seen less crime over past year. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

Residents say that the 1900 block of S. Troy Street on the Westside of Chicago has seen less crime over the past year. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 16, 2013 6:23AM

The green graffiti scrawled on a sidewalk at 19th and Troy says “Goons.”

It marks the place where 28-year-old Johnny Henderson was shot to death Feb. 1, 2012.

The graffiti is a reminder to residents of a time when their block was overrun with gang members.

But residents say the drug-dealing gangsters and the violence they inflicted are a fading memory. Summer came and went without a single shooting in the area, police said.

“It’s been as quiet as a mouse as far as the shootings go,” said Beverly Tinsley, the block club president at 19th and Troy. “The biggest problem I have is getting the railroad to clean up their property at the end of the block.”

The 1900 block of South Troy on the West Side is one of more than 40 blocks in Chicago where police have launched their “wraparound strategy” since early 2012. The Chicago Sun-Times is spotlighting two of them — 19th and Troy, and 79th and Bennett on the Southeast Side — to show how the city is combatting violence a block at a time.

The newspaper first visited those blocks in March and returned to see how they have fared since then. Crime continued to fall in the neighborhood surrounding 19th and Troy, but rose in the area around 79th and Bennett. One key difference is community involvement in both areas, with 19th and Troy seeing more active residents.

Under the wraparound strategy, which is a key to police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s violence-reduction efforts, police conduct undercover drug stings to remove dealers from a targeted block.

To keep them away, officers maintain a regular presence there. Sometimes an officer in squad car will be based on a block for months.

City officials take legal action against businesses and homeowners whose properties harbor drug dealers.

And residents are invited to meet with police, who encourage them to form block clubs and call whenever they see crimes.

The 1900 block of South Troy and the 7900 block of South Bennett are quite different — as are the solutions to their problems.

The 1900 block of South Troy is mostly residential, with Douglas Park to the northeast and railroad tracks to the south.

Early last year, gang members were congregating around one of the houses on the block. Johnny Henderson, a reputed gang member whose murder remains unsolved, was shot on the street in front of the rundown home.

After the killing, gang members congregated under a tree, where hundreds of liquor bottles were displayed in honor of Henderson.

Eddie Moore, a longtime resident and a member of the block club, said he and his wife seriously considered moving to a safer place.

“There was not a good element on the block,” said Moore, 58. “Our son kept asking us to move to Atlanta.”

Then in April 2012, the police launched a drug sting on the New Breeds, the dominant gang in the area. And the Moores and other members of the block club decided to fight back.

They have formed a phone tree to communicate with members of their block club. Now they frequently report suspicious activity to the police.

This summer, they have held two block parties — serving hot dogs, giving away school supplies and bringing in an inflatable ‘jumpy house’ for the little kids on the street.

“No one would come out before,” Moore said. “All that’s changed now. Children are able to run around and play. People are able to come out and sit on their porches.”

The city, meanwhile, targeted the house where the gang members were gathering. This year, a new owner bought it. Dan Edelstein, a 25-year-old who works in a button factory, moved into the home about two months ago, renting from a friend who bought the house out of foreclosure in February.

“We came by, and it was in pretty bad shape, but I work on houses, and we said if you give us a little off, we’ll fix it up,” Edelstein said.

“I’m not getting people tagging my door with graffiti like I was in Little Village,” he said. “It’s a nice neighborhood. People are nice, out on the street talking to each other. I don’t feel uncomfortable at all.”

Maria Pena, commander of the Ogden Police District, said she thinks the wraparound strategy has worked at 19th and Troy, and it had a ripple effect on the surrounding neighborhood.

In a 16-block area including 19th and Troy, there were 131 crimes in 2011, 115 in 2012 and 110 in 2013 between late April and the end of August, police said.

“We don’t have a murder or a shooting or gang-bangers hanging out,” Pena said of the 1900 block of South Troy itself.

But the crime problems are continuing for the 7900 block of South Bennett. They stem largely from drug dealers congregating near businesses — along the busy 79th Street commercial corridor.

On April 27, 2012, five South Shore High School students were shot and wounded at a CTA bus stop in the 2000 block of East 79th. The gunman got away, and the case was not solved.

Because of the violence and drug-dealing, the police and Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) focused their attention on that stretch of 79th.

The police conducted a drug sting on the Gangster Disciples in the area in May 2012.

The same month, a private security firm began patrolling 79th and other busy arterials in the neighborhood, paid with taxes levied against local businesses. The Chicago Police Department and the private firm, Allpoints Security, have kept people from loitering in front of businesses near 79th and Bennett, said Berscott Ruiz, commander of the South Chicago Police District.

Meanwhile, Harris launched city action against the owners of a 24-hour food mart on 79th. Police suspected drug dealers were selling narcotics behind the store, she said.

The store’s business license was revoked in November 2012, records show.

“This was a problem business,” Harris said. “They did not have the right licenses to open a retail store — just a tobacco license. . . . I had to be in the lead on this. This involves a lot of work. But I can’t allow these people to come back and take over.”

The store now is boarded up, with the message “Stop the Violence” painted in big black letters on a door along with the telephone number for Harris’ ward office.

Yet, serious crime problems persist.

In March, Raymond Tucker, 24, was fatally shot in the head while walking in the 1900 block of East 79th. The killing remains unsolved.

In a four-block area along 79th — including the intersection at Bennett — there were 35 crimes in 2011, 40 in 2012 and 46 in 2013 between late April and the end of August, police said.

There were no nonfatal shootings over that period in 2011, one in 2012 and two in 2013, police said.

Ruiz said his officers have been working hard to recruit residents to join block clubs and attend community-policing meetings.

“They have engaged the area much more than in the past,” he said.

Marie Williams, president of the block club in the 7900 block of South Bennett, said things seem “slightly better” since the wraparound strategy was launched last year.

“I think there is more quietness in the neighborhood. The police are more visible. People were hanging out this summer, but it’s not like it was,” she said.

The owner of a sandwich shop on 79th also said things are better than last year.

“This year there haven’t been as many kids loitering,” said the shop owner, who was robbed two years ago when someone entered the back door of his restaurant and cleaned out his cash register at gunpoint.

“It’s not easy doing business here,” he said. “But it’s definitely better than before.”

But the owner of a woman’s clothing store on 79th near Bennett said things aren’t getting safe enough fast enough for him. He said he was nervous because a security guard didn’t show up for work that day.

The man, an immigrant from Congo, plans to move his store when his lease is up at the end of the year.

“The neighborhood is bad,” he said.


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