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Police to expand high-school outreach program

Chicago police are expanding a high-school outreach program to prevent gang violence after the initial program appears to be making inroads, Police Superintendent Jody Weis said at a news conference on Sunday.

The program, which started March 8 in high schools in the police department's Area 1 -- roughly from 2200 to 8700 south and from Harlem Avenue east to Lake Michigan -- has resulted in students seeking to get tatoos removed and to leave their street gang, police said. Students are transferred to new schools when necessary.

Though it is difficult to measure prevention strategies, Weis said, the high schools in Area 1 had no students murdered in gang violence from March through June, compared with five murders in that same time period of 2009.

Commander Leo Schmitz said the effort has nothing to do with pressuring the students to "rat on" gang members or tell police "who is dealing dope." Instead, police officers assigned to the Gang School Safety Team intervene after a killing or other gang violence to talk with the victim's friends.

The private sessions are held with a parent or school representative present. Ten officers are assigned to the Gang School Safety Team.

"We'll talk about the kids' exposure to violence and try to stop any retaliation," said Sgt. Kenneth Boudreau. "We ask, ¼What is gang life doing to you- Can you recall other friends who were shot- What are your greatest fears- Do the gang members regularly visit and help the family of the victim- The students will say, ¼No, no one cares about the family.' If one of your fellow gang members is arrested, the other members regularly visit and support him, right- They'll say, ¼No, no one cares about him anymore.' "We're trying to get them to see who they are committing their lives to, and to talk to their friends about the conversation," Boudreau said. "We're see the students' hardness retract. We're getting cooperation of families. The parents of homicide victims are reaching out and helping us, trying to make sure other families don't endure the same thing." The program started this school year in high schools in the police department's Area 2, roughly from 55th to 138th streets, and from Cicero east to State Line Road.