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Two blocks, worlds apart: Police strategy works where residents are willing to inform on criminals

Chicago Police Department mugshot Johnny HendersThursday February 21 2013.

Chicago Police Department mugshot of Johnny Henderson, Thursday, February 21, 2013.

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Updated: April 11, 2013 6:28AM

Beverly Tinsley was in her kitchen when she heard the gunshot.

Her husband ran to the window and saw a man bleeding, leaning on the bumper of a car.

“Call an ambulance!” her husband yelled.

But when police arrived in the West Side neighborhood last April, the man was gone. His friends had dumped him at the hospital and took off, law enforcement sources said, and he later died.

Around the same time, the gang violence was even worse in another neighborhood about 15 miles away, on the Southeast Side. Over a one-month period, three men were killed.

In both neighborhoods, the police response was the same — the so-called wraparound strategy announced by police Supt. Garry McCarthy last year.

On each street, cops swept up drug dealers after the murders. The city blanketed the neighborhoods with social services. And residents were encouraged at local church meetings to take their blocks back from the street thugs.

The results, though, were markedly different.

On the West Side, in the 1900 block of South Troy, crime, overall, took a nose dive.

Kids rode their bikes on the street again.

A warehouse manager looked forward to attracting new tenants.

Even Hollywood came calling, ever so briefly, filming a scene for “Chicago Fire” on the block.

But at 79th and Bennett on the Southeast Side, crime didn’t take a holiday.

It got much worse.

Interviews with residents and police show one factor outside the city’s control is critical to the success of one of its crime-fighting centerpiece strategies — whether the residents are willing to inform on criminals in their neighborhood or not.

On the West Side, a block club led by Tinsley fought for their street, even forming a phone tree to call the cops whenever there was gang activity.

On the Southeast Side block, with older residents scared of getting involved, homeowners weren’t as ready to take a stand, despite the best efforts of the block club president.

The two blocks were among the 40 the city has sought to clean up since McCarthy launched his wraparound strategy early last year. The idea is to wrap city services around an area after cops shut down open drug dealing on the street.

“In places where we have good community involvement, we have the best success,” McCarthy said. “There are other locations in the city that have not been as successful, where we have trouble getting the community to come out. In some places, we have apathy. In others, people are afraid — or we have not pulled out the entire root of the narcotics trade.”

‘Straw that broke the camel’s back’

The 1900 block of South Troy — where Tinsley lives — is one of the success stories, police say.

The killing of 28-year-old gang member Johnny Henderson on Feb. 1, 2012, outside Tinsley’s kitchen window prompted the police to investigate the dominant gang in the neighborhood, the New Breeds.

McCarthy visited the neighborhood in April last year to announce the arrests of nine suspected drug dealers, ranging in age from 18 to 56. Two have been sentenced to prison, two others to boot camp and two to probation. Prosecutors dropped charges against the other three.

In the 10 months after the bust, crime in the surrounding 12-block area fell about 13 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, police say. After the arrests, there were no murders or shootings in the area. Calls for police service were down 14 percent.

After the drug busts, residents formed a block club, electing Tinsley president.

Henderson’s murder was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Tinsley, 62, who grew up on the block in the 1950s, when murders and shootings were rare in Lawndale.

“If we did something we weren’t supposed to do, a neighbor would say, ‘Beverly, you can’t do that.’ And you would say, ‘Yes, ma’am.’”

Everything changed with the race riots on the West Side in 1968 following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. White families moved out of Lawndale, along with big businesses like International Harvester, Sears and Zenith.

The big businesses replacing them were street gangs like the Vice Lords and New Breeds, selling drugs on the street corners and controlling their territory with guns.

Tinsley and her husband moved to Park Forest, about 30 miles south of Chicago, where they raised their children and where Tinsley worked as a deputy village clerk.

Then, about two years ago, her mother died. She and her two sisters inherited the family’s three-flat on South Troy, and she and her husband decided to move back.

“The first night we were here, gangbangers were in the street playing basketball until 3 or 4 in the morning. My husband told them, ‘Don’t you know people are sleeping?’ And they said, ‘No, I don’t think we are going to stop.’ ”

Parents kept their children inside — the block was part of the New Breeds’ turf.

After Henderson’s murder, gang members put about 100 empty liquor bottles under the tree near where he was shot. The memorial included Teddy bears and pictures of Henderson. It remained there for weeks.

Police Cmdr. Maria Pena, then newly in charge of the 10th District, had her officers remove the eyesore. The gang put the bottles back. Officers warned them to stop.

“A citizen came out and said, ‘We appreciate this, ’” Pena said. “I said, ‘I promise this summer, this will be a place you want to live.’ ”

‘Down to one house’

As part of McCarthy’s wraparound strategy, a crew boarded up a vacant building on the block to keep gang members out. And police assigned a squad car to the street — around the clock.

“Nobody tried to come back and sell narcotics,” Pena said. “I pulled the squad car out in the middle of the summer.”

On Halloween, Tinsley organized a block-club cookout at the 10th District station. She dressed as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. McCarthy even got into the spirit, supervising a game of musical chairs for the kids.

Tinsley said she hopes the positive activity is making gang members uncomfortable. One gang-affiliated family on the block has moved away, Tinsley said. But another house still draws gang members, she said.

“We are down to one house,” she said. “And two new families have moved in. We are reaching out to them.”

Tinsley said her plan for this summer includes hosting field trips for neighborhood kids.

“They have never been to the zoo,” she said. “They have never gone to Great America.”

She also persuaded social-service agencies to launch a stress reduction program on her block and seven ones nearby.

The program will match people with services — from kids who need counseling after witnessing violence to adults dealing with substance abuse, said Dr. Carolyn Vessel, president of the I Am Able Center for Family Development.

Robert W. Matanky, whose company manages a factory building on the south end of the block, said he’s noticed the changes. Matanky said the filming on Feb. 7 of a scene for “Chicago Fire” would have been difficult before because of the drug dealers hanging out just north of the building.

“The first time I went to the building, I didn’t get out of the car,” Matanky said. “I saw a drug deal going down on the other side of the CTA tracks. It’s getting better. There were not drug deals in broad daylight last summer. Now, we are optimistic we will find new clients.”

There’s a vacant lot across from the factory, and one of the block club’s goals is to create a park there, to drive away the men who come from other neighborhoods to blast music and drink booze, Tinsley said.

“There’s still a lot to do,” she said. “But the gangs aren’t terrorizing the people who live here anymore. We have turned it around 100 percent.”

‘Not getting 100 percent participation’

On the block on the Southeast Side — less than five blocks from where First Lady Michelle Obama grew up — the crime numbers took a different turn.

They went up after the wraparound strategy was launched there. The Gangster Disciples are active in that part of the South Shore neighborhood near 79th and Bennett, police say. After three people were killed in the area in a month’s time, the department in May last year announced the arrests of 12 suspected drug dealers, ranging in age from 22 to 56. Five are now in prison, three got probation and four have pending cases.

As they did on the West Side, the police invited residents to a community meeting at a church. The officers encouraged them to report serious crimes and call 311 for other issues.

While calls for police service were up 13 percent in the 10 months since the busts, over the same period a year earlier, the local block club leader says the police should be called even more.

“Nobody wants to be a snitch,” Marie Williams said. “Nobody wants retaliation.”

And city officials haven’t exactly made her feel part of the team, she said.

She and other community leaders didn’t feel welcome on Oct. 17 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a news conference at the 4th District police station to trumpet the closing of another drug market. Williams was invited to the news conference but felt more like a prop than a participant, she said.

“Did we get a chance to tell the mayor anything?” she said. “No, we didn’t. A few of us had questions for the mayor, but it was a one-way dialogue. A pastor and I looked at each other and said, ‘What are we doing here?’ ”

Williams and her husband run a tour-bus company out of their home in the 7900 block of South Bennett. One of her sons works with her. Another is a minister in Kansas City, Mo.

Her block club, formed in 1981, covers the stretch of Bennett from 79th to 82nd.

Williams estimates about 80 percent of her neighbors are elderly, and that’s part of the issue.

“They will not get involved,” said Williams, who is 63. “We’re looking for younger blood, but no one will step up.”

At the north end of her block is busy 79th Street, a commercial corridor. Gang members congregate near a barbershop and a food store on 79th, which they call “The Nine.”

A decade ago, Williams was looking out her kitchen window when she saw a man on a motorcycle shoot and kill a man at 80th and Bennett. But most of the drug dealing and violence occurs along 79th and in the alleys behind 79th and not on Bennett, a residential street with single-family homes, Williams said.

In the 10 months after the bust in May, crime in the four blocks along 79th between Bennett and Clyde rose 55 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.

“You hear sirens almost every night,” Williams said.

Even with all the arrests on the block, some people appear not to be getting the message.

Darrell Williams, one of the men arrested in the May roundup, couldn’t seem to avoid trouble on the block even after he was sentenced to probation in the drug case.

He kept coming back and kept getting arrested.

Williams, 23 and no relation to the block club president, was charged with marijuana possession in October and with criminal trespassing in December. Both arrests were at 79th and Bennett, records show.

Crime experts say the sharp rise in crime along 79th since the drug bust doesn’t necessarily mean the wraparound strategy failed. Crime might have been even worse without it, they say.

Williams and the owner of a business on 79th said police have been more visible since the crackdown last year.

“I think the police are trying to send a strong message to people who are trying to commit crimes, but I know the police can’t do it all,” Williams said.

Fourth District Cmdr. Berscott Ruiz said he thinks the takedown in May disrupted drug sales near 79th and Bennett, but he said people who live in the area haven’t helped the police as much as he would have liked. The police department’s partnership with the community was more successful in other block cleanups, like one at 87th and Commercial, Ruiz said.

“The ones who have to walk past the alley or walk past the people congregating are calling,” Ruiz said of residents near 79th and Bennett. “But those that are not directly affected by it are the ones I believe are not calling in. We are not getting 100 percent participation.”

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