ELGIN, Ill. (CBS/WBBM) — Law enforcement officials in far northwest suburban Elgin say they’re seeing a significant drop in gang activity, and they are crediting a unique crime-fighting tool.

As WBBM Newsradio 780s Pat Cassidy reports, Elgin officials are taking alleged street gang members to court – not on criminal charges, but to sue them civilly.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Pat Cassidy reports

Elgin police Lt. Bill Wolf tells the Chicago Tribune he doesn’t want to jinx things, but as a result, it has been a fairly quiet fall and winter in Elgin.

Using the 1993 Illinois Street Gang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act, prosecutors pursue civil cases, including monetary damages, against gang members.

Beyond that a judge has approved the right of police to prevent gang members from associating with each other in public, and arresting them when they do.

Defense attorneys tell the Tribune they “don’t like” the new procedures. Wheaton attorney Jeff Fawell tells the newspaper that the laws amount to “restricting someone’s freedom.”

As of early December of last year, about 30 of the 70 gang members sued in Elgin had been ordered not to associate with each other, the Tribune reported.

Former DuPage County State’s Attorney Joseph Birkett was the first prosecutor to sue gang members in 1999, the Tribune reported. The county has filed dozens of lawsuits since then, targeting street gangs in Addison, Glendale Heights and west Chicago, the Tribune reported.

Cook County has not used the law against gang members yet, the Tribune reported.

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