The 2100 block of West Fletcher Street could be found in almost any neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago. Older frame houses mix with new brick-front homes. Sidewalks bear colored chalk markings left over from a child’s game of hopscotch. In fact, there’s very little to tip off a casual visitor that this area is the stronghold of a small but pernicious gang that also claims nearby Hamlin Park as its territory.
Now, the area around Fletcher and neighboring North Hoyne Avenue is the focus of a new effort to target gang members by literally going after them where they live. This effort comes on the heels of a shooting the night of March 16 near Fletcher and Hoyne that sent a man to the hospital with a bullet wound to the face. It was the third shooting on or near that block since October 2011. Chicago police have made no arrests in that shooting.
Police and neighbors have now started working with the office of Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) to identify the buildings where known gang members operate, either in rental units or in vacant homes. Police and authorities from the Buildings Department will then contact the owners of those buildings with the goal of forcing them to take responsibility for their properties and make sure the gang element is evicted.
“To me, that seems to be the biggest issue,” said Waguespack, who described this new effort as being similar to the one launched last year that targeted the owner of an apartment building at Fletcher and Damen, barely a block from Hamlin Park. “We came down hard on them,” said Waguespack, who noted a drop in complaints from neighbors after the owners of the building were forced to clean up the property and evict gang members.
The current targets are what Waguespack characterizes as a “half-dozen or less” members of the Insane Deuces gang, which originated in the Lathrop Homes housing project in the 1950s. It has offshoots in Aurora and Elgin, but neighborhood sources describe the Chicago branch as being small and not very influential. However, while the Deuces may be small relative to other gangs in Chicago, gang-related crime has been a constant in the area around Hamlin Park even as the makeup of the neighborhood has changed over the last 15 years. A recent Roscoe View Journal analysis of Chicago Police Department crime records found 494 reports of serious non-domestic crimes in the one-block radius around Hamlin Park between 2007 and 2011.
Waguespack said he has encouraged Chicago police to move quickly to target the property owners where gang members have set up shop. “It’s not like there’s 200 of them,” he said. “It’s like, ‘If you know where the guys are, why are we waiting?’”
What’s not expected to come to the neighborhood, however, are the “blue-light” police surveillance cameras that have become well-known if controversial tools in the city’s fight against crime. Waguespack said people in the area have asked about having a blue-light camera installed, but homeowners usually reject the idea, fearing the impact on their property values. In addition, Waguespack said they’re not effective as a deterrent. “The blue lights don’t catch anyone, because the gang-bangers know where they are,” he said.
If this latest drive is successful, the city will soon know where the gang-bangers are and the 2100 block of Fletcher may again be as quiet and peaceful at night as it is during the day.