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Top cop ‘optimistic’ that visiting gang leaders’ homes cuts violence

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy

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Updated: March 26, 2014 6:03AM

When 14-year-old Venzel Richardson was shot to death on the South Side earlier this month, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy ordered his staff to draw up a list of warring gang leaders in the area.

Within 48 hours, the commander of the Grand Crossing District was knocking on their doors, warning them to halt the shooting.

Cmdr. Glenn Evans told the young men they’d face stiff prison terms for their next violent crime. But they also were given a contact for job training and other social services.

No one has been charged with the teenager’s Feb. 12 murder at 61st and Vernon, but the conflict between the gangs in that pocket of Woodlawn ebbed.

These “custom notifications,” which began as a pilot program on the West Side about seven months ago, appear to have persuaded the targeted groups to stop shooting at each other, said Cmdr. John Kenney of the police department’s Bureau of Organizational Development.

More than 50 people have been visited in six police districts. Even though most of the men have long criminal records, none has been arrested for a violent felony since a police commander knocked on his door. And none is suspected in a shooting, Kenney said.

“I’m optimistic this could be an effective method to put a wet blanket on something that’s taking off,” McCarthy said.

Asked whether some people might consider custom notifications a “hug-a-thug” tactic, he said: “It’s not an enforcement strategy, it’s an intervention. I don’t care what people think. If it works, I will give them a hug myself.”

McCarthy said he thinks the program changes gang members’ behavior because the commanders try to speak to family members, too. They can also apply pressure on the gang members to stay out of trouble, he said.

Things haven’t ended well for some of the men who turned their backs on the program, police said.

One of them, Dennis Glover, 27, was shot to death on Dec. 26 while walking with his girlfriend on the West Side, police said. He was killed about five months after the Austin District commander gave him a custom notification, Kenney said.

Apparently, Glover didn’t want to have anything to do with the program.

“He told us he was moving out of town, but because he was on parole we knew that wasn’t true,” Kenney said.

So far, the department has made custom notifications in the Wentworth, Calumet, Grand Crossing and Gresham districts on the South Side and in the Austin and Ogden districts on the West Side.

A pilot program was launched in July in the Austin District. Then, the department reached out to people on a “heat list” of those deemed most likely to become shooters or victims, based on social networks and other factors.

Now the strategy’s focus has changed somewhat: The department takes even less time to launch the notifications in response to specific acts of violence — and targets those in the neighborhood most likely to have an influence over those doing the shootings, Kenney said.

Ogden District Cmdr. Maria Pena said she visited seven suspected gang leaders between Feb. 3 and Feb. 7 following a series of shootings involving the Latin Kings and the Two-Sixers.

Her district intelligence officer and a sergeant were the first ones to visit the men or their families at their homes. Their message was simple: They weren’t in trouble, but the commander needed to meet with them.

“They don’t like the fact that you go to their home and embarrass them in front of their family,” said Ildefonso Lara, the intelligence officer. “They drop the act.”

Then Pena would show up, accompanied by a woman from New York-based John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who was there to help the men connect with social services.

On one visit, Pena met with a Latin Kings leader and his family.

“I said, ‘We want to have people put their guns down,’ ” Pena said.

The commander said an 18-month-old child was in the room. Pena played to the emotions of the gang leader’s family.

She told them that on her first day as Ogden District commander in 2012, she responded to the murder of 6-year-old Aliyah Shell. Latin Kings members were allegedly gunning for members of Aliyah’s family, who were Two-Sixers, and mistakenly shot the girl, police said.

“I said, ‘We don’t want you or your family shot — and we don’t want to continually arrest you,’ ” she said. “Your mom doesn’t want to bury you.”

Pena said she met with Latin Kings and Two-Sixers leaders — or when they weren’t at home, their families. Two of the men have made initial telephone calls about obtaining social services.

More importantly, the daily shootings between the gangs have ended, Pena said.

“The violence between these two gangs has stopped,” she said. “In the short period of two weeks, I think it’s making a difference.”

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