Crime Commission awards gang-violence reduction efforts

By Hallie Zolkower-Kutz

Individuals, organizations and law enforcement professionals who have contributed to violence prevention in Chicago were honored on Nov. 7 during the Stars of Distinction 2012 Awards Dinner sponsored by the Chicago Crime Commission.

The dinner, held at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe St., brought together law enforcement officials and community groups to collaborate on methods for decreasing gang violence in the city, which they acknowledged is on the rise.

“We have three goals tonight,” said NBC Chicago news anchor Rob Stafford at the ceremony. “We want to honor and recognize excellence in law enforcement during the past year, we want to raise support for the crime commission and we want to thank the patrons and supporters who made all this possible.”

Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy Franco Domma was awarded the Law Enforcement Gang Expertise Award for his knowledge of gang activity.

While attendees had differing opinions about how to deal with gang violence, there was a general consensus that the city’s gang problem is becoming more widespread, as is the collaboration between street gangs and Mexican drug cartels, according to Special Agent in Charge John Riley of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

“We’ve got anywhere between 80,000 and 100,000 documented street gang members that have formed a very toxic business relationship with the cartels,” Riley said.

Domma said he sees more gang-related crimes now than ever before.

“In one night in the city of Chicago, there’s an average of about 200 calls [reporting] shots fired,” he said. “Who do you think is doing all the shootings? Gang members.”

There have been 2,083 shootings in the city so far this year, up 9 percent from 2011, according to Chicago Police Department statistics. The CPD also reported that in 2010, 46 percent of murders with an assigned motive were gang-related.

Riley took the opportunity to discuss the creation of a new Chicago Strike Force, something he said he is “stinking passionate about.”

The Strike Force brings together law enforcement agents from the CPD, the Secret Service and several other agencies to intercept gang and cartel members at the “choke point,” Riley said.

“[The choke point] is an area that allows us to seamlessly go after the street crime and try to intervene, but at the same time try to attack the largest organizations possible,” Riley said.

Kim Nerheim, a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman and law enforcement coordinator of Project Safe Neighborhoods, attended the dinner because of her involvement in the community. PSN is a Chicago-based community outreach program working to reduce the number of murders in the city caused by firearms, many of which are gang-related, she said.

“From an enforcement perspective, the partnerships are what we feel has really been effective,” she said regarding PSN’s success. “[PSN] is just one tool in the box. Riley talked about the enforcement side and having everyone collocated so that everybody feels like they’re working on the same team. That’s a highly effective structure.”

Domma has a different strategy in mind. He said he believes that to begin combating gang violence, it is important for police officers to start on the street.

“I surround myself, talking to gangbangers or gang-affiliated individuals, and I actually go speak to them face to face,” he said. “It’s knowing who the key players are in the area. You need to know the basics, like [the gang’s] hand signal or graffiti, because that’s your first way to identify them.”

Domma said he wants officers to be more active in the prevention of gang violence by taking pre-emptive action.

“I believe law enforcement has to be proactive,” he said. “How are you going to stop the violence if you wait until the shooting occurs?”