Maine Township panel looks at changes in suburban gang activity
Police Chiefs Dean Strzelecki of Niles (left) and Frank Kaminski of Park Ridge (right) sat on a gang education panel organized by Maine Township on Oct. 17. | Natasha Wasinski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 21, 2013 6:04AM
PARK RIDGE — Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski’s first gang encounter didn’t occur on the job.
Growing up on Chicago’s Southwest Side, he crossed paths with rowdy boys known as the 58th Street Jungle who declared a public park their stomping grounds.
But Kaminski and his peers never felt afraid, he said. Young gang members in the 1960s typically kept to themselves. Gang members’ fights were broken up by cops who knew their names, he said.
“It was like a planned event and very theatrical,” he recalled. “Then it was over.”
Fists have now been replaced with high-tech guns. Innocent bystanders are now caught in the crossfire, and suburbs are experiencing their share of gang-related crime.
“You can’t look at (gang activity) as being contained to one neighborhood, one area, one type of crime – they’re into pretty much everything, unfortunately,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said during a recent gang education seminar organized by Maine Township Trustee Laura Morask.
Morask, a former Cook County gang-crimes prosecutor, said the fractionalization of gangs and resulting loss of hierarchy is the most significant problem today in combating illegal activities.
The housing crisis helped usher in the arrival of gangs in area communities. Homeowners who rent unsellable properties or leave houses abandoned may find them occupied by gang members.
“Foreclosures are a serious problem,” said Larry Bunyon, a Maine Township code enforcement officer who monitors gang graffiti. “They can become dangerous fast.”
Greg Jacobson, a senior detective with the Chicago Police Department’s Gang Mission Team, said it is typical for city gangs to splinter and find refuge in suburbs.
“They might not be doing their dirty work here,” he said, “but there is a presence.”
Niles Police Chief Dean Strzelecki said Niles has seen fewer gang-related problems over the past few years because of proactive efforts.
In 2008, Niles passed a crime-free multi-housing program to curb drug and other criminal activity on rental properties. Village ordinance recommends landlords include wording or an addendum in lease agreements that makes criminal activity a cause for eviction. A renter could be forced to vacate after a third incident, Strzelecki said.
Niles police have collaborated with law enforcement officials in surrounding areas to address a rise in gang graffiti.
Other efforts like undercover narcotics work, increased traffic stops and initiatives that provide safe routes to school have also helped crack down on suburban gang activity, said Tony Brzezniak, Cook County Sheriff’s Police deputy area commander.
Preventing youth from falling victim to gang life is another strategy for containing the spread of crime and one that requires the entire community’s involvement, said Kaminski.