Gang feud shootings, CPD staffing discussed
by JASON MEREL
Officials say a gang conflict involving up to 50 people is largely responsible for shootings and violence in the 17th (Albany Park) Police District and that the violence is spreading to Forest Glen and Sauganash because gang members are following each other home.
Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) held a virtual safety town hall meeting on Sept. 29 following recent gun violence in the district with officials from the Chicago Police Department and the Inspector General’s office to answer concerns such as what is being done to fight the violence and how the department is staffed.
“I want to start by acknowledging that the last few weeks have been really hard in our community and across the city,” Rodriguez said. “We have been seeing a lot of violence. I know that this has been really triggering for many of us. I want to acknowledge the fear and the anxiety that a lot of folks feel.”
“This isn’t a new problem,” 17th District commander Ronald Pontecore Jr. said. “This is a problem we’ve been experiencing here in the Albany Park district for the better part of the last 2 years. It’s between two gang factions that we have been dealing with on and off.”
He said the violence has escalated recently and gang members are now following each other to their homes.
“That’s why we see these carloads of people chasing each other around and exchanging gunfire throughout the neighborhood,” he said, adding the gun violence has not been limited to Albany Park. “This is spreading out to areas such as Sauganash and Forest Glen as well.”
CPD Bureau of Detectives Area 5 deputy chief Roberto Nieves said the conflict extends beyond the 17th District.
“With the issues that are occurring in the 17th District, it’s not only in the 33rd Ward,” Nieves said. “It involves the entire 17th District, as these individuals the commander referred to are traveling throughout the district, and not only involves the 17th District but also the 16th District, up in Jefferson Park, as these members also do reside in that area.”
Nieves said the bureau has a gang investigation team that has been working on this conflict. The team has worked up a very involved case involving homicides and vehicular hijacking but was only able to get approval from the state’s attorney for one homicide and one vehicular hijacking, Nieves said.
Pontecore pointed out that despite the recent violence, crime data for 2021 shows reductions in 17th District compared to 2020.
“We’re actually doing better crime wise than we were last year,” he said. “It’s just that we’re still dealing with the same two groups of fools that are doing this to each other. The problem is, like we all know, bullets don’t have names and they go in whatever direction they might be fired off and then sometimes they hit the wrong people.”
“We have all of these individuals identified. It’s a small group of individuals. I want to say it’s maybe under 50,” Nieves added. “A large number if maybe not all have been arrested, maybe once at least twice with firearms.”
Nieves said these individuals have also been “custom notified” after arrest, which means the commander and a social service provider pay a visit to their homes or relatives’ homes and offer them services ranging from getting identification and job training to relocation.
Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg discussed various data collected by the Inspector General’s office and focused on staffing numbers for the purposes of the town hall.
According to data available at www.informationportal.igchicago.org as of September 2021, there were a total of 12,140 sworn CPD members, which was down from 12,753 over the past 12 months.
Witzburg discussed staffing at 17th District and said the total has ebbed and flowed over the past 12 months. The district is currently staffed with 223 sworn members, up from 219 last year but down from a high point of 239 in April 2021.
Witzburg said staffing numbers are difficult as a record keeping matter since sworn members may be assigned to one district but operate in a unit that works in other districts.
Alderwoman Rodriguez asked Witzburg how staffing decisions are made and if there was any available analysis of those decisions. Witzburg said she thinks those decisions are an open question in terms of the public conversation.
“There have been a number of public efforts in recent years to make the department’s approach to that public and there’s not a great deal of public information about how those decisions are made,” Witzburg said.
“The answer to your question, alderwoman, is we don’t know,” Inspector General Joe Ferguson added. “The answer to your question is the area command doesn’t know either. That puts everybody in a really tough place.”
“Questions have been put point blank to the superintendent for an explanation,” Ferguson continued. “There is reference to the department using a staffing analysis. It has been requested by many, many, many aldermen. The superintendent has declined to make it available. Aldermen have asked for simply a summary or an overview of some of the key factors and that has not been provided as well. And so it’s something of a black box for everybody’s purposes and there is frustration around that, across the city.”
Rodriguez said that “it would be really bad government if every alderman is just yelling, ‘I want this many cops.’ And that’s how we end up staffing the districts so I want to be able to understand what is needed and that information is very obscure right now.”
A resident asked Rodriguez about the work being done in the ward to address the root cause of the violence.
Rodriguez said that she had conversations with Mayor Lightfoot about “violence intervention, prevention and interruption,” and “I have been told over and over that there is no funding for it and there are no resources for us.”
Rodriguez said that thanks to a small grant from Cook County that was given to a local group, the ward has a “street outreach program that aims to intervene in moments of gun violence and try to de-escalate, provide services or offer services, create relationships with people that are at risk of causing harm or being harmed by gun violence.”
She said streetlights have been improved in the ward to make sure spaces are properly lit. She said she has also been working with the department of buildings and district police to ensure landlords are managing issues at their properties. Finally, she said her office has been working with the city’s department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to crack down on businesses that are attracting violent crime.
A resident asked about how 9-1-1 calls are dispatched, prioritized and if data was available on calls for service due to a violent offender versus mental health crises.
Witzburg said that calls are broken down by type of offense and priority level. The data portal showed there were 12,080 calls given a priority level of immediate dispatch over the last 12 months, compared to 5 CPD and CFD calls for emergency assistance, 5,361 rapid dispatches, 14,332 routine dispatches and 6 administrative dispatches.
“If I could break in here, I have a real problem when somebody starts talking about quote-unquote routine calls, routine jobs, routine stops, nonviolent calls,” Pontecore said. “We are in the age of society where there is no such thing as routine. We just buried one of our fine young police officers, Ella French, not even a month ago, for what some might consider a routine traffic stop for an expired license plate.
“Everything has the potential to become a violent confrontation, unfortunately more so these days because we are finding a prevalence where everybody thinks that they can live in a state of lawlessness and don’t have to obey an officer’s, you know, orders.”