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More Police Departments Using Lawsuits To Target Gangs

An Elgin Police Department squad car on patrol. (Credit: CBS)

An Elgin Police Department squad car on patrol. (Credit: CBS)

Dana Kozlov Dana Kozlov
Dana Kozlov is a general assignment reporter for CBS 2 Chicago. She...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Law enforcement officials agree: the street gang problem is out of control in the Chicago area. But how do you win the never-ending battle with gangs and drugs?

CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov has an inside look at an effort to attack gangs by going after their cash and those the gang members hang out with.

Elgin Police Sgt. Jim Lullo said one local park that used to be a Latin King hangout is safe now. In fact, Lullo said the city’s once prolific gang activity has been cut by almost half in recent years.

Lullo and Elgin Police Chief Jeffrey Swoboda credited several lawsuits filed against dozens of gang members in 2010 as one reason gang crime is down. The lawsuits resulted in injunctions preventing gang members from congregating or associating with each other.

“That’s what we want to do, we really want to take that opportunity away,” Lullo said.

Swoboda agreed the lawsuits were an effective tool in the fight against gangs.

“We’ve only made five arrests, but it’s changed their behavior, and there are many of these gang members, who … now they’re not hanging out as much. Our shootings are way down,” Swoboda said.

Don’t believe it? A Latin King member, who didn’t want to be identified, was one of those sued.

He said it makes him and other gang members follow the law “a little bit more, because you know, you can’t be hanging around with them. If you do, you get stopped. You get arrested.”

Aurora police hope similar lawsuits will work for them. The Kane County State’s Attorney’s office recently sued 35 Latin King members from Aurora.

“I believe that we’ll make a significant amount of arrests on it,” Aurora Police Lt. Brian Olsen said.

Legislation recently approved by the Illinois General Assembly might make a similar approach possible in Chicago.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said that law would allow local prosecutors to charge gang members for organized criminal activity, much like federal prosecutors use the federal RICO statute to target mob associates.

“In this way, we can fight the disease, and not just the symptoms,” she said.

That legislation is awaiting the governor’s signature.