Berwyn police gang unit makes impact: Undercover investigations rise; felonies and misdemeanors drop

By: Joseph Ruzich (Chicago Tribune)


January 13, 2010
Crime is down and arrests are up a little bit in Berwyn since a new gang tactical unit hit the streets in August.

“Something had to be done,” said Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero. “Berwyn isn’t the Wild West, and these gang members aren’t going to be allowed to destroy our community.”

Berwyn Detective Roger Montoro, coordinator of the tactical unit, remembers an incident in which a child was almost shot in gang crossfire in October. Montoro said the child was in his home near 19th Street and Scoville Avenue when a bullet shattered a window and barely missed his head.

Montoro said a feud between two gang members — who live across the street from each other — resulted in the shooting, which left one of the gang members with a gunshot wound in his arm.

“It’s very unfortunate,” said Montoro. “Parents living on the block were afraid to let their children go outside to play. We’re lucky the child wasn’t shot.”

Lovero said he came up with the idea for the unit about two years ago and began moving forward with his plan after ousting the previous mayor in April. The unit has about 20 officers and detectives.

Berwyn Deputy Police Chief Joseph Drury said police officials sat down with the new mayor to share crime data indicating about 98 percent of crime in the suburb is committed by gang members or associates of gang members.

Lovero said he wanted police to make sure the new unit was proactive, contending that the former drug unit spent too much time reacting to crime rather than attempting to prevent it.

So police officials worked to execute more search warrants as well as increasing their investigations on gangs and gang leaders.

The gang unit has executed 20 search warrants, according to police officials. Only two were executed in the eight months before the unit’s formation.

Ten undercover investigations are going on in the city now, Drury said.

Records supervisor and Berwyn police officer Joseph Fitzgerald said felonies fell from 70 to 63, in August and September 2009, as compared with the same months in 2008. Misdemeanors also dropped, from 199 to 152, in that period.

Fitzgerald said statistics also show the unit is responsible for more arrests. Comparing January through September of 2008 with the same months in 2009, aggravated battery arrests jumped to 55 from 43; burglary arrests went to 26 from 18; and arrests for thefts to 94 from 77.

Berwyn did have two homicides in 2009 compared with zero in 2008. They were not gang related, officials said; one was a domestic incident and the second occurred during a feud between two former friends.

Montoro said the tactical unit focuses on intelligence along with interrogation and undercover operations and has been able to create a list of alleged gang members in the community and surrounding area.

“If someone is shot in Cicero, for example, we look at our list and decide who they might retaliate against,” said Montoro. “We know everything about them, their enemies and who they might go after next.”

Montoro said one gang member — who was wounded from a bullet that grazed his head — was brought to the police station in hopes of trying to stop him from seeking revenge.

“He told us he will continue to shoot people, but not in Berwyn,” said Montoro. “I asked, ‘Why not give it up totally?’ The gang member said, ‘That guy shot me in the head, and I got to go back and get him.’ It turns out the gang member shot him (his alleged offender) in Chicago.”

Drury said unit officers are trying to develop a dialogue with gang members.

“The more sensitive and customer-oriented you are with violent people, the more information you’re going to get out of them,” he said.

“Many of these people have drug addiction problems and, in some cases, mental disorders. We offer them help. We’ll make a deal with them to get them help. In turn, they often give us tips.”

Those tips often enable police to build enough information to ask a judge for a search warrant, police said.

The unit has had some success in seizing drugs in the community.

A gang member-turned-informant helped police bust one of the largest drug operations in the city’s history Nov. 2. Berwyn officers along with other state and local law enforcement officials raided a home in the 2200 block of South Ridgeland Avenue and seized 355 marijuana plants valued at nearly $290,000, in addition to more than 300 grams of cocaine, other illegal drugs and 10 guns.

Four days later, the unit served another warrant at a home in the 2500 block of Highland Avenue and found 100 pounds of marijuana, some cocaine and drug manufacturing equipment.

Lovero said he is happy with the unit’s success so far.

“I think we put together a good team who knows how to read the minds of these criminals,” he said. “We’re not going to sit around anymore.”

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4 Comments for “Berwyn police gang unit makes impact: Undercover investigations rise; felonies and misdemeanors drop”

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