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Chicago gangs getting pushed out of city, into western suburbs

Thomas Q. Weitzel runs western suburban gang task force says Chicago Police Department's success driving gangs from city is hurting

Thomas Q. Weitzel runs a western suburban gang task force and says the Chicago Police Department's success in driving gangs from the city is hurting the 'burbs. Weitzel is Chief of Police in Riverside. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: March 28, 2012 8:07AM



Chicago gang members are invading the western suburbs.

Gangs have sent juveniles to Riverside to burglarize homes and steal TVs, computers, jewelry, cash and whatever else they could grab.

In Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park, gang members recently painted graffiti on 30 different locations before they were nabbed.

And in Cicero, police busted a high-ranking Four Corner Hustlers member for possession of heroin.

“The Chicago Police are doing a really good job of pushing the crime west,” said Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel, chairman of a 10-suburb gang task force.

It was formed about five years ago when Berwyn, Brookfield, Cicero, Elmwood Park, Forest Park, North Riverside, Oak Park, River Forest, Riverside and Stickney began to see the “toothpaste” effect. Chicago Police were applying pressure to gangs and like a tube of toothpaste, they were getting squeezed to the suburbs.

Last year, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy declared war on the Maniac Latin Disciples and the Spanish Cobras after MLDs allegedly killed two little girls and Cobras allegedly killed an off-duty Chicago cop.

“In the last year, things have really picked up,” Weitzel said. “We attribute that to the full-court press on gangs by the Chicago Police.”

Cook County Sheriff’s Supt. Frank Diaz, who runs the criminal intelligence unit in the jail, said another reason for the exodus of gangs to the suburbs is that more members are getting out of prison and being placed on “intensive gang probation.”

They’re prohibited from returning to their old neighborhoods and aren’t comfortable in rival gang territory in Chicago. So they relocate to the suburbs, where they’re safer and the cops don’t initially know them.

Weitzel said the demolition of Chicago public-housing units displaced gang members to the western suburbs.

And many Chicago gang members have chosen to drive to the suburbs to do “deals on wheels” because they’re afraid of having their drug transactions captured on Chicago’s public surveillance cameras, Diaz said.

The task force — called WEDGE for West Suburban Directed Gang Enforcement — made 105 felony arrests last year, compared to 49 in 2009. Its gang-related missions, everything from traffic stops to monitoring summer festivals, were up 66 percent last year compared to 2010, Weitzel said.

Before the task force was launched, the 10 suburbs didn’t readily share information, Weitzel said. Now the task force’s 22 officers have access to the other departments’ crime databases and communicate on the same radio frequencies.

The task force is asking for permission to communicate on Chicago Police Department radio frequencies when they enter Chicago for investigations, Weitzel said.

Task force members have been working with the U.S. Marshals Service to chase down fugitive gang members. They also team with the Illinois Department of Corrections to conduct home visits of parolees to see whether they’re following the conditions of their release, Weitzel said.

More and more, gang members and their extended families have resettled from Chicago to Riverside, a picturesque town of almost 9,000 residents, Weitzel said.

The village, founded in 1875, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — known as the father of landscape architecture.

Riverside calls itself the “Village in the Forest.”

Weitzel said the quiet village — like most of the other towns in the task force — was unprepared for the influx of gang members several years ago.

The village was forced to pass an ordinance requiring businesses to remove gang graffiti within seven days, Weitzel said. Even the bridge crossing the Des Plaines River near the police department is a regular target of such graffiti, Weitzel said.

But that’s not all.

In recent years, police have busted gang members selling dope outside Riverside Brookfield High School, but Weitzel said police have not seen that problem in the last six months.

Perhaps most disturbing was the burglary ring the task force busted, he said.

Chicago gang leaders sent juveniles to Riverside to knock on doors. If someone answered, they’d ask for “John” and would politely leave when the resident said John didn’t live there.

Then they would go to another house, and if someone didn’t answer the door, they’d kick it in and burglarize the place.

When they were caught, the juveniles admitted they were Chicago gang members and told police they didn’t care about getting arrested because they wouldn’t do any time behind bars.

They were right.

They were released and did the same thing in Forest Park, where they were re-arrested for burglary, Weitzel said.

“We asked them why they were coming to Riverside and they said it was an affluent community and they were getting better proceeds here,” he said.

Weitzel said the task force is now conducting long-term investigations, using court-authorized telephone overhears, to build cases to “keep these people out of here permanently.”

The Chicago Police Department recognizes “that across the country, gangs try to expand their presence and tend to gravitate to locations that they believe they can operate with less scrutiny — and the Chicagoland area is no different,” said Chicago Police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton.

“But simply pushing crime out — the bubble effect — is not what our goal is. We work relentlessly to address conditions in the areas that gangs operate in to increase the safety of communities across our city, and assist fellow law enforcement agencies with access to our CLEAR system and by holding gang information sharing meetings,” she said.



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