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Gang factions drive up Chicago’s murder toll

Updated: August 9, 2012 6:22AM



They have names like the Snakes and the Sick-O Boys.

They’re young, unorganized bands of gangsters, some of them splintered off from larger gangs, others little more than guys who know each other from the block.

These gang “cliques” or factions, some controlling no more than a block or two, have fueled much of the 37 percent rise in murders during the first six months of 2012, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.

“They are the fracturing of the bigger gangs,” McCarthy said. “Pick the Gangster Disciples. That’s the biggest gang in the city. Now, there’s God knows how many factions of the GDs. Now, they have their own internal disputes between the cliques — and sometimes within the cliques.”

Those changes in Chicago’s street gangs have McCarthy and his commanders scrambling to find ways to fight them.

McCarthy said the number of known gang factions in Chicago has skyrocketed in recent years from 500 to 650.

Gone are the days — back in the 1990s and early 2000s — when the Gangster Disciples and the Latin Kings controlled thousands of members on Chicago’s streets with a Fortune 500-style corporate hierarchy, experts say.

Now, according to Frank Diaz, superintendent of the Cook County Sheriff’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, many clique members affiliate with a larger gang like the GDs only when they go to jail or prison and need protection from rivals.

“There has been a huge split within the mobs with a lot of hybrid groups named something completely different,” Diaz said. “They’re fighting each other for control. There is such a war going on out there.”

One of McCarthy’s strategies: opening his department’s own ballistics laboratory. That stems from the long delays the Chicago Police Department faces in getting results back from the Illinois State Police crime lab.

“In Newark, I was getting between three and six ballistic matches on a daily basis from the day before,” said McCarthy, who came to Chicago last year from New Jersey. “Newark is about one-tenth the size of Chicago. So if we have 36 ballistic matches over the course of the day, how many of those cases can we connect the dots and make a case?”

The police also have been conducting “gang call-ins.” Gang members are asked to attend a meeting of law-enforcement officials, clergy and representatives of social agencies. They’re told they’ll be targeted by the police if any one of them is found responsible for a shooting. They’re also offered help in finding jobs.

In the Harrison, Englewood and Gresham districts, where those call-ins have taken place, murders are either down or about the same as last year.



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