Alderman Cullerton, police discuss strategies to combat gang problems in Portage Park
by Brian Nadig
Ticketing gang members for minor vehicle violations and shining a continuous spotlight on a gang member’s residence are among the measures being taken by police and other city agencies in an effort to combat gang problems in the Portage Park area.
“Are they vying for turf? Absolutely,” district commander James O’Donnell said of the area’s two main rival gangs. “We’re not going to allow them to take over Portage Park. That’s why our officers are so aggressive.”
O’Donnell made his remarks to about 350 attendees at a Sept. 9 community meeting which Alderman Timothy Cullerton hosted at Portage Park School, 5330 W. Berteau Ave. Cullerton called the meeting in response to three gang-related shootings which occurred in the Portage Park area last month, including an incident in which a 4-year-old girl was injured.
The number of contact cards which police have filled out this year on suspicious persons stopped within a four-block radius of Portage Park, 4100 N. Long Ave., is about 2,400, up 55 percent for the same period last year, O’Donnell said. In some instances gang members are being stopped and searched as soon as they leave their home if they are wearing gang colors, and officers are stopping gang members for minor offenses such as riding a bicycle on a sidewalk or driving with a broken taillight, he said.
About 45 known gang members, representing about a dozen different gangs, live with an approximate four-block radius of the park, O’Donnell said. “That’s not a lot compared to other parts of the city,” he said.
Cullerton said that one of the victims in the recent shootings is a gang member who lives with his father, a ranking member of the same gang, in an apartment building the 3500 block of North Linder Avenue. Cullerton said that at his request, the city installed a spotlight which shines on the rear of the building.
“Essentially since he has been (living) there, he’s been on the radar of the 16th District,” Cullerton said of the gang member who was shot.
That gang member has been stopped by police 35 times, and he was arrested a few days before the shooting, and his father was arrested a two days after the shooting, O’Donnell said. The city’s strategic task force recently inspected the building for violations, and the building’s owner is in the process of evicting some of the tenants, O’Donnell said.
Efforts are being made to have an extra police car assigned to the 16th District for use in the Portage Park area, Cullerton said. Over the Labor Day weekend, some officers were paid overtime in effort to beef-up patrols in the park, and additional saturation patrols in the park may be planned, according to O’Donnell.
In addition, the Chicago Park District has agreed to have a stealth-style security camera installed at the southwest corner of the park, where residents previously objected to having a blue-light camera due to the stigma of the noticeable light, Cullerton said. Also at the intersection, the operators of the 7-Eleven convenience store at 5600 W. Irving Park Road have agreed to hire nighttime security and to stop selling single-serve cans or bottles of liquor due to loitering problems, Cullerton said.
Despite, the recent shootings, overall reported crime in the area is down through the first eight months of the year while the number of arrests has increased compared to last year, O’Donnell said. The recent shootings were the first in the area since last January, he said.
There was a report of a fourth shooting incident in the Portage Park area last month, but police were unable to confirm it, O’Donnell said. Police received only one call about the shooting, and gunshots usually spark multiple 911 calls, he said.
Also at the meeting, some residents complained about rowdy patrons at Club E, 5415 W. Irving Park Road, and the lack of a school crossing guard at Central and Berteau avenues.