Gangbusting Strategy Pays Off for Chicago

But courtroom success destabilizes South Side streets

AS President Clinton prepares a nationwide crackdown on gangs, he has looked to Chicago's war on the 30,000-strong Gangster Disciples to demonstrate how American cities can take on even the toughest, most entrenched street gangs.

The Clinton initiative, which includes $11 million in federal grants and a new legislative agenda for gang suppression, is designed to bolster anti-gang efforts in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, and 11 other cities and counties, Justice Department officials say.

Chicago, which will receive a $1 million federal grant, was selected for its success in using the full force of local, state, and federal law enforcement to go after major gangs such as the Gangster Disciples (GD).

The city, which was recently designated by the federal government as one of half a dozen high-intensity drug-trafficking areas, has also benefitted from sophisticated military and FBI technology in targeting gangs.

Mr. Clinton, in what some political pundits view an election-year bid to strengthen his crime-fighting credentials, is expected to unveil the program later this month. His antigang initiative comes as juvenile crime and gang violence rise across the country, despite a slow overall decline in reported serious crime during the 1990s, according to the FBI's annual crime reports.

"Many communities are experiencing gang infiltration - it's like the McDonald's franchise of crime," says Charles Miller of the Justice Department's community policing office.

Chicago's coordinated approach "has paid off with a major indictment of a nationwide street gang," says Jim Reilly, Mayor Richard Daley's assistant for criminal-justice issues.

By aggressively employing federal racketeering statutes, high-tech wiretaps, and money-laundering laws, authorities in Chicago last August indicted 39 top GD leaders and collaborators on charges of running a multimillion-dollar drug ring.

When seven ranking GD leaders and a Chicago police officer were convicted March 6 on drug conspiracy charges, it sent a harsh message to the gang hierarchy: chief Larry "King" Hoover is on his way to federal prison.

Mr. Hoover is scheduled to go on trial in October. Although the first of three GD trials technically has no bearing on Hoover's case, it produced reams of transcripted tape recordings and testimony identifying him as the czar of the GD's drug empire.

The response on the street to Hoover's expected downfall has been immediate. In the four weeks since the convictions, Chicago police have reported a rash of shootings and 10 slayings of Gangster Disciples.

"There are a lot of power plays going on," says Chicago police commander Donald Hilbring.

Residents and police say they are braced for more gang conflicts as the trials proceed. Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez has ordered a special gang task force into several South Side neighborhoods in an attempt to stem gang warfare.

An intensifying struggle within the upper echelons of the gang claimed one reputed GD leader, Leon (Milk Man) Holton, police say. A renegade group called the New Breed is one major GD faction fighting for control across the city.

Efforts by the rival Black P. Stone gang to capture GD drug turf also led to shootings that killed four other reputed GD members. The Black P. Stones aims to retake territory lost to the GD in 1994, Mr. Hilbring says.

While on-the-street instability is a sign the GD may be crumbling, Chicago authorities admit that they are still far from ending GD control over lucrative drug-dealing venues, which in many parts of the city are sophisticated, 24-hour-a-day operations.

At the Robert Taylor housing project, for example, the GDs and other gangs have staked out entire high-rise buildings for drug trafficking. Gang members search residents in the lobbies and often extort money from them.

Cries of "five-oh," "five-oh," echo from the towering tenements as gang lookouts alert drug dealers to approaching police. Police often arrest a group of dealers only to see a new "crew" appear within minutes. "You get one and 10 others spring up," said one officer on condition of anonymity.

Gang members are so concentrated in the housing projects, where an estimated 20 percent of contract security guards are affiliated with gangs, that police are sometimes helpless even to make arrests, the officer added.

*Part 1 of the series appeared Feb. 27, and Part 2, March 28.

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