In the wake of spillover gang activity affecting the near western suburbs, the Oak Park Police Department has teamed up with the Forest Park, Berwyn and Cicero police departments to form an ad hoc tactical unit that will monitor gang activity throughout those communities.
"We have met, and continue to share intelligence regarding gang activity," said Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley. In addition to those four departments, the original meeting included representatives from the Chicago Police Department, the Cook County Sheriff and the Illinois State Police. That meeting, which took place at the Oak Park police substation on Austin Boulevard near Harrison in October, was in response to a series of shootings along Oak Park's eastern Austin Boulevard border and southern Roosevelt Road border. The clincher came on Oct. 13, with the shooting death of Berwyn resident Roberto Munoz, 19, in the 7200 block of Roosevelt Road in Forest Park.
While no arrests have been made in that killing, Forest Park Police Chief James Ryan said his department believes the shooting was gang related, and are still investigating several leads.
Tactical cooperation in dealing with common criminal elements is a growing trend in the Chicago area. Since at least 2002, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has worked closely with Chicago police and affected suburban police agencies in investigating, tracking and apprehending hundreds of individuals involved in drug conspiracies. Now, with gang activity on the rise in the west suburban area, these four adjacent police departments have decided that cooperation might also be their best weapon of defense.
"It's a joint venture," Ryan said. He explained that one Forest Park plainclothes police officer joins up with tactical officers from the other communities two or three nights each week on what's called a "power shift," which overlaps the evening and midnight shifts. During their undercover patrols, the officers work to become familiar with the gangs in the area.
"They're stopping the gang bangers on the street, letting them know [the police] are out there," Ryan said.
Tanksley said that there has been a noticeable effect so far.
"We've seen less activity occurring on that strip of Roosevelt Road," he said. The arrangement is currently informal, but the departments are considering possibly expanding and formalizing the program at some point in the future.
"That's proven to be more complicated," said Oak Park Deputy Chief Robert Scianna, noting that any such formal arrangement will need to take into account a variety of administrative and legal concerns.
Forest Park, a smaller department that does not have a full-time tactical unit to monitor gang activity, will clearly benefit from the arrangement. But Tanksley was quick to point out that larger departments will benefit as well.
"We need to pool our resources," he said Tuesday. "No one can be an island in these circumstances." Oak Park, he said, is already gaining valuable gang intelligence that will help them react more effectively in the future.
Both Tanksley and Ryan said that while most of the gang activity occurs outside their villages, they are concerned that it could easily make its way across the fluid borders between the city and surrounding suburbs. This current tactic, they said, is a proactive approach aimed at curbing that trend.
?#34;Bill Dwyer contributed to this report