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California gang moves to Chicago suburbs; Sheriff ups the fight

Frank Diaz Supt. Cook Counrty Sheriff's Office's Criminal Intelligence Unit his office. The walls are lined with photos gang members

Frank Diaz, Supt. of the Cook Counrty Sheriff's Office's Criminal Intelligence Unit in his office. The walls are lined with photos of gang members, (here, Latin Kings) their nicknames and where they were arrested. That data is plotted on the maps and officers can tell what gangs are moving where. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 31, 2011 12:37AM

Cook County Sheriff’s gang investigators couldn’t believe their eyes.

The Bloods — a California gang portrayed in movies like “Colors” — have never had a presence in the Chicago area. But earlier this year, the sheriff’s graffiti unit snapped photos of Bloods graffiti in west suburban Maywood and south suburban Harvey.

Then, sheriff’s investigators spoke to two men in Maywood who said they were from California and admitted they were Bloods. Other Bloods have been identified in the north suburbs near Chicago’s border. And a Bloods member hiding out in Schaumburg was arrested for questioning in a burglary and several murders in California.

“It’s something we’re keeping a close eye on,” said Sgt. Jason O’Malley of the sheriff’s gang crimes unit.

The surprising revelation that Bloods are on Chicago’s doorstep comes as Sheriff Tom Dart is escalating his war on gangs in the suburbs. This year, Dart has partnered with more than 50 police agencies and his investigators began using a sophisticated mapping system to target the worst gang problems.

The sheriff has taken a new step to collect information on gang members in the jail. Incoming arrestees are asked if they’re gang members. If they say yes — which many do — their gang affiliation, location of their gang “set” and photos of any gang tattoos are entered into a database.

Dart’s investigators also are working to identify gang leaders in the suburbs based on information from inmates, local police agencies and snitches on the street.

Combining gang intelligence with block-to-block crime data from the suburbs, the sheriff’s new task force can quickly identify emerging gang problems, officials said.

Sheriff’s officers and Cook County suburban cops are hitting the streets together. Recently, the task force acted on intelligence that resulted in the arrest of a gang member and the seizure of 27 guns in south suburban Thornton, officials said.

Gun recoveries and arrests have shot up this year as a result of the initiative, which involves almost half the police agencies in Cook County other than the Chicago Police Department, sheriff’s officials said. For the first four months of 2011, the sheriff’s gang and narcotics teams seized 103 guns, compared to 69 over the same period last year, said Steve Patterson, a spokesman for Dart.

The gang crimes unit is relying on a mapping system first used by the Cook County assessor’s office to track properties. The sheriff’s customized computer system can create crime maps for each suburb in the task force. The maps show a variety of information — such as 911 calls, arrest data and graffiti reports. The task force uses the so-called density maps to pinpoint high-crime spots. Then it might conduct a search warrant on a single drug house or launch a broader mission to take out an entire gang.

In west suburban Burbank, the task force went after the Ambrose street gang earlier this year. The FBI notified sheriff’s investigators that one Ambrose member in Burbank was secretly recorded saying: “There’s too much f------ heat here.”

“We heard most of them have relocated,” said Kevin Ruel, deputy chief of special investigations for the sheriff.

The sheriff’s office also is working to produce detailed maps of gang territories in each suburb. So far, the office has generated maps of gangs in Franklin Park, Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights. Such maps will help the task force track gangs across jurisdictions. That’s important because gangs are more willing than ever to leave their traditional strongholds and form business alliances with rival gangs in new places, said sheriff’s Lt. John Blair. The south suburbs were the first to join the task force, followed by the western and northern suburbs in Cook County. The task force is a “force multiplier” at a time when departments across the suburbs are suffering from budget cuts and manpower shortages, he said.

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