Chicago police are cracking down on drugs and murder. So gangs are following the dollar signs to suburbs and small towns.
by Anne Keegan
are seeing a gang migration out of Chicago. The vast majority of
it is heading south, some west. Black gangs, Hispanic gangs, some
whites. It started three years ago when a number of big gang leaders
wanted to get out from the watchful eye of the Chicago police. So
they moved out to places where nobody knew who they were and the
police departments were small and ill-equipped. They figured they
could get away with more out there without being caught.
Smith, deputy chief of special prosecutions,
Cook County states attorneys office
I talk to is looking for a small town. The small towns dont
know the tricks yet. In Chicago these days you got one good year,
maybe, when you can buy yourself a Corvette and a motorcycle. One
good summer selling drugs, then the police close the spot down,
close the whole neighborhood down, and for one good summer you catch
30 years on a drug conspiracy. Chicago aint playing games
no more. In a small town you can play games forever.
former Chicago gang member, now living in Indiana
things are starting to change in Chicago. And as they change there,
an awful lot of other places are going to be affected. Cities miles
down the interstate, suburbs just across the city line, towns, little
and big, near and sometimes far, are going to have to face this
is a migration, subtle but real. And its becoming noticeable.
The notorious Chicago street gangs are heading out to newer and,
in many cases, more naive pastures. Like the old-time gypsies,
says one Chicago street cop, when it gets too hot, they move
away from the heat and out of town. The migration is discernible,
not just to Chicago police, but to destination towns that are starting
to become concerned about this influx of outsiders with big city
reasons for the movement are complex, for it isnt limited
to Illinois; its happening nationwide. Chicago, however, has
lost patience with the organized crime that has evolved as gangs
become more sophisticated and network out to suburbs and rural areas,
which enables them to profit from Americas insatiable appetite
for illegal drugs. Chicago simply wants them gone.
straight-talking new chief of patrol, James Maurer, has 10,000 troops
under his command who are enforcing his warning: Well make
it so unprofitable for you to operate a dope spot on the street
in this city that you will have no choice but to move to Iowa.
have the worst gang problem in the country, Maurer says. But
the message is out. Their heyday is over. We are going to close
down their street operations and give them no choice but to stay
out of business or move somewhere else. Were going to make
it so hard for them to sell drugs here that it will be like trying
to open a candy shop on a diabetic ward.
time, Chicagoans are starting to believe it. The newly appointed
Chicago police superintendent, Philip Cline, has begun implementing
many new aggressive procedures, which are making it more than uncomfortable
for Chicagos deeply embedded street gangs to continue to wreak
havoc in that citys neighborhoods.
60 percent and 70 percent of the murders in Chicago are attributed
to gangs. Their presence has caused the city to become, among other
things, Americas murder capital. That status had not made
Mayor Richard Daley at all happy. He wants that changed and the
problem fixed now. But its not so easy. Gangs, drugs and guns
are inextricably intertwined, and have been for years. More guns
were confiscated in Chicago last year over 10,000
than any other city in America.
cant talk about a gang problem without talking about the narcotic
problem. You cant talk about the narcotic problem without
talking about the gun problem, says Michael Smith, deputy
chief of special prosecutions in the Cook County states attorneys
office. You cant peel one off from the other. And the
result of all three is violence and death.
arent just a bunch of teenagers hanging out on the corner
anymore, says Commander Mike Cronin of Chicagos gang
intelligence unit. They are not street gangs anymore. They
are a business. In the 30 years that I have been on the street,
theyve gone from gang banging and shooting at each other to
selling dope and turning it into big business.
arent about gang colors anymore like they used to be. They
are all about one color green the color of money.
Street gangs have become dope crews. Gangs are beyond graffiti.
leaders no longer boast they are gang leaders or admit to gang affiliations,
says Cronin. They dont wear hats cocked to one side or jewelry
hanging off their necks. They want to be anonymous. Thats
why they started moving out, where nobody knows them or what they
dont drive flamboyant cars. Instead, they often rent them.
They buy nice houses whose lawns are mowed. They look like a working
guy and dont want to attract attention. When they move out
to the suburbs, or a smaller town, they arent touching the
drugs themselves that much, so its hard to catch them.
a guy named Psycho who runs a street [drug] operation
in Chicago, but hes out in one of the Iowa towns. The police
there know all about him. He has a $250,000 home, but they cant
catch him doing anything illegal out there. He still comes here
to Chicago, dont get me wrong, and hes still a leader
with the New Breeds selling narcotics. The narcotics unit just shut
down one of his spots for the second time but didnt get him.
Hes one of many like that.
have evolved over decades from social to corporate, says John Firman,
director of research for the International Association of Chiefs
of Police in Washington, D.C. In the major cities, where there
have traditionally been gangs, the police have gang units and [have]
learned more and developed some savvy, so the logical question for
the gang leader is, Where can I go and get out of the spotlight?
Especially when you have a big brawny police force after you. They
move to the smaller town. The problem is there are 14,000 police
departments in America with less than 24 officers. They are scraping
for resources. How are they going to deal with the gang problem?
is going to hurt gangs eventually is the Homeland Security technology
developed because of the need for intelligence sharing among agencies.
Well, that intelligence sharing doesnt have to be limited
to terrorists, it can include gangs. Big police agencies will be
able to web in [link to] the little ones with information. But,
if I am a small town officer and Im not watching out on my
beat, then the gang problem is going to sneak up on me, web or not.
County Assistant States Attorney Paul Marchese says, As
long as I have been here and that is seven years the
majority of the gang members came from Chicago.
gang migration is across the collar counties around Chicago, and
it has grown, says Marchese, who heads that countys
gang prosecution unit. For them, there is less emphasis on
territory and more on making money.
at a map of Illinois, with stars to mark the existence of a gang
of some kind, there is nary a county that is not part of the galaxy
a vast Milky Way, whose great center is Chicago, with rogue
offshoots trailing all the way down to the Ohio River.
2003 study conducted by the Gang Crime Prevention Center out of
the office of the Illinois attorney general queried more than 1,000
police officers statewide in 290 jurisdictions, and the majority
of the individual officers and their agencies reported gang migration
in their districts. In one phase of the study, 86 percent of the
agencies reported migration into their gang population.
study found that gangs are a major presence in communities throughout
Illinois. Respondents from 222 law enforcement agencies reported
an average of five gangs and 67 gang members in their jurisdictions.
number of gangs in individual jurisdictions ranged from none to
80, and the number of members per gang ranged from none to 3,445.
to the study agreed on three reasons for migrations into local gangs:
83 percent of the agencies cited family moving into the area; 69
percent stated the reason was to be near family or friends; 37 percent
credited an expanding drug market.
the report stated, the primary reasons for individuals to
migrate to gangs are for non-gang related reasons. For the most
part, gang members move for the same reasons that non-gang members
experts in Chicago might agree in part with that conclusion, but
they have a different perspective. Of course, when they go,
they have to have somewhere to go, says Commander Cronin.
They dont just throw a dart at the map and head out.
They know somebody there. A girlfriend, a cousin, a friend they
met in the penitentiary. When they are from Chicago, they commute
back and forth Minneapolis, Des Moines, Indianapolis and
back to Chicago.
Wayne Wiberg, who headed Chicagos narcotics unit, says, We
can see some of them going, but they are not going away, like disappearing,
talked to some officers from the towns outside Chicago and they
hate us because they say were sending them these guys, and
I respond, Believe me. Id like to send you more,
says Wiberg, who now works in the police academy. They get
these gang members out of Chicago and all of a sudden they have
a drug problem. Not just people living there who are using drugs,
but people living there that are selling.
Bruce Malkin is with a five-man unit that works gangs in West Chicago,
a DuPage County suburb. He is seeing a large migration of Hispanic
gangs into the Midwest from California. West Chicago, population
25,000, has had five murders in the last three years and four out
of the five were gang-related. His unit, which is large for a small
force, was approved by citizen referendum to deal with escalating
key to comprehending what is happening with the gangs is street
intelligence, he says. You have to know what to look
for in order to find it. A lot of these gangs now are not overt
in the way they act.
are several reasons why some gang leaders and lower-echelon gang
members are migrating out of the inner city of Chicago. One reason
is the systematic tearing down of the high-rise public housing projects
whose dank hallways and empty apartments became rat warrens and
hideaways for the gangs. They served not only as incubators of gang
crime but as recruitment centers for the very young, and often were
as impenetrable to law enforcement as a moated medieval castle with
its drawbridge raised.
second reason is the massive gentrification of the city that has
spilled out to Chicagos notorious West Side. Though small
in geographic size, the West Side and surrounding neighborhoods
are responsible annually for 1 percent of all murders in the free
world, says Maurer. On its eastern rim, where broken skeletons of
houses and sagging two flats once lined the streets, new condominiums
have sprouted by the hundreds. Yuppies have replaced the poor. Briefcase-
carrying whites now stand on corners where thugs used to hang. The
gangs have moved somewhere, perhaps only blocks away, for the West
Sides Fillmore Police District is still considered one of
the most dangerous sections of real estate in America. Where all
these thousands and thousands of displaced or migrating people have
gone, nobody is sure. There is no census for gang members.
there are the moves that the new police superintendent is making.
Cline reactivated a gang intelligence unit and promoted to its head
a veteran of the street and an old hand with gangs, Mike Cronin,
who, when he stops a young gang member on the street, often had
locked up his father, arrested his grandfather and may have known
his grandmother when she was selling marijuana out of a candy store.
What Cronin is looking for is intelligence on drugs, guns and, most
has taken the 25 district tactical units which he says are
the young hard chargers who often had been used for frivolous
details such as parades and now sends them as a concentrated
battalion to problem areas. He has ordered the top brass
all commanders to be out on the street Friday and/or Saturday
nights when gang violence has its highest potential so that they
can see for themselves what is going on rather than just reading
a report about it while sitting at a desk on Monday morning.
three weeks, he starts a street corner conspiracy case on a drug
spot using undercover body wires and videotaping equipment. Once
the corner operation is raided and shut down, it stays down. Cline
puts blinking blue light cameras on a pole on the corner
and a squad that sits there watching. And to cover these closed-down
drug spots and others still in operation, Cline has ordered 1,000
desk-bound officers to spend some time on the street. Once every
five weeks for one week, they rotate out on the street and sit on
drug spots, in uniform, in a marked car. It puts a serious damper
blue lights with revolving cameras have been installed on the main
West Side thoroughfares where gangs have traditionally gathered,
and occasionally rioted. On a Saturday night, and a warm one for
February, there was no one hanging around or loitering, even near
the eerily blinking blue lights. Big brother, the police, or somebody
are indeed starting to change in Chicago. And what happens there,
in the city with the greatest gang violence problem in America,
could have repercussions throughout the state and beyond.
Dre, a former Chicago gang member says, They moving
out to make more money cause you dont get caught. Besides,
you might be a punk in Chicago, but youre a chief in a small
is a need for a national gang strategy, says prosecutor Smith.
This could become an epidemic because there are no borders
for gangs, and its not just a problem of big cities like Chicago
anymore. Big city police departments are experienced, the smaller
ones arent. The answer to how to deal with this problem is
as complex as the problem itself.
Keegan is a Chicago writer who was a Chicago
reporter for more than 25 years. She is currently writing
On the Street Doing Life,
a book about police and gangs on Chicagos West Side.
Issues, April 2004
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