ALBANY PARK — After a recent outbreak of gang violence that included two shootings in two days on the same block, Albany Park residents packed a CAPS meeting Wednesday night, with some accusing police of having a "completely ineffective" strategy in combating homicides.
Neighbors at the meeting for Beat 1713 said there were signs dating to March that pointed to escalating tensions between Latin Kings' factions in Albany Park and Rogers Park, culminating in a fatal shooting May 23.
Whatever strategy police are deploying to prevent retaliatory shootings "clearly doesn't work," said Eric Filson, a member of Albany Park Neighbors.
But Chicago Police Capt. Tom Karnick, acting commander in the Albany Park Police District, defended his officers.
The district, he said, acted on intelligence gathered days before the shootings. More police were on patrol in the area surrounding Lawrence and Kedzie avenues, the center of Latin Kings activity, and several arrests were made.
"Was the strategy effective in stopping [the shootings]? No. Were we in the neighborhood? Yes. Is it a big miss? Oh yeah," Karnick said. "We were there; their conflict found their way around us."
Patty Wetli says police want neighbors to be visible outside:
The district is receiving help from citywide narcotics, gang intelligence and gang enforcement units, he said. Using a combination of forensics, video camera footage and eyewitness accounts, he expects arrests will be made in the May 21 and May 23 shootings, in which both victims were gang members from Rogers Park.
At issue, he said, are about 120 Latin Kings who claim Lawrence and Kedzie as their home turf, a territory the faction has occupied since the 1970s.
"Here's a room full of people who live by the rules, against people who live for this idiotic allegiance," Karnick said. "How do you combat that?"
Officers may know each gang member by name, where they live, their kids and their wives and girlfriends, but it "doesn't mean we can go arrest them because we know who they are," he said.
What police can do is bust gang members on petty charges like blocking traffic or drinking in the public way, just to get them off the streets so "they're not killing anyone or getting killed," said Karnick.
"Our guys are making arrests every which way under the sun," he said.
Community members can do their part by being the kind of neighbors gang members want to avoid, he said.
Find excuses to be outside — pick up litter, do some yard work, walk the dog — and outfit homes with lighting, locks, fences and cameras, Karnick suggested.
He credited 33rd Ward Ald. Deb Mell, who attended the meeting, for going after problem buildings that were gang havens.
"That's going to help," he said, though in the short-term it means gang members are on the move, which is why residents might see activity and graffiti on streets where none was previously spotted.
Residents shouldn't hesitate to notify police of the bad egg on their block.
"There's going to be a bad building and a bad owner. Let us know," said Karnick. "We research it to death, and we will go after it."
Containing the neighborhood's gang factions is "slow going," he admitted, but he insisted the area was improving.
"Who would've thought homes in Lincoln Park would cost a million dollars when it was slums 30 years ago?" he said.
The next CAPS meeting for Beat 1713 will be 6:30 p.m. July 22 at the North Park University Magnuson Center, 5000 N. Spaulding Ave.
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