Suburbs: Get smart about gangs
Updated: March 10, 2012 8:31AM
Gangs in the suburbs.
Five years ago we couldn’t get local leaders to talk about gangs, let alone admit that the suburbs had gang members living and recruiting in our towns.
It would have been bad publicity for the villages and good publicity for the gangs, police officials told us.
If they went public with police intelligence — including backgrounds, symbols, operations and criminal activities — they believed it would glorify the gangs and make it easier for gangs to recruit members.
Not any more.
The Gang Book, just released by the Chicago Crime Commission, is an encyclopedia — a wealth of knowledge — about gangs. It provides page after page of mug shots, member bios, tags/symbols and territories. It details the gangs’ criminal history and how police have pursued them.
Chicago has more than 100,000 gang members, “more than any other city,” said Jody Weis, president of the Chicago Crime Commission.
The suburbs have more than 15,000 gang members, Weis said.
According to the book, Elmwood Park has 40 active gang members while River Grove has 30. MOB and Maniac Latin Disciples are listed as most concerning.
This Gang Book shows how gang activity has increased or decreased in the suburbs and how many members are active in each community.
Many Chicago suburbs — 170 of 249 — responded to the Crime Commission’s survey, acknowledging the threats to their communities and sharing information and resources.
Some suburbs did not.
It seems they are in denial about the realities of gangs and that reporting on the issue would unnecessarily scares residents. They still think that gangs are just a big-city issue that doesn’t affect their quiet, bedroom communities.
But gangs are everywhere, thriving on a drug trade that is fed by burglaries, robberies, thefts and violence.
“The threat posed by gang members is very real,” said Weis. “It will take a comprehensive and integrated approach to return the streets to our residents.”
And that starts with education. Weis and other police leaders agree that it’s not just educating the police, they also need to educate the community.
“Most experts agree that solving the gang problem requires a far broader solution than police,” Weis said. “It is critical for all components of the community — schools, parents, faith-based organizations, businesses and government agencies — to work together to address the threat posed by these extraordinary numbers of gang members.”
The Gang Book is a good start. It signals an openness in communicating about the problem and a willingness to cooperate to end the cycle of drugs, crime and violence.
It’s time for the suburbs to stop being blind victims and instead be part of the solution.
It’s time the suburbs got smart about gangs.