A major drug bust last Thursday in and around the West Side Austin neighborhood may bring some relief to overworked Oak Park tactical cops and residents concerned about violence in their neighborhoods. The operation, dubbed "Operation Capitol Hill," a joint investigation of the Chicago Police Department's Organized Crime Division, the Narcotics and Gang Intelligence Section, the Asset Forfeiture Section and the Cook County State's Attorney, nabbed 55 gang members, including top members of the Four Corner Hustlers gang. Police recovered 303 grams of heroin, 452 grams of cocaine, 19 firearms and seized eight vehicles.
Chicago police have cooperated in numerous large-scale drug and gang investigations by the FBI and DEA in previous years, including massive busts in 2004, 2005 and 2007. However Thursday's sweep was the largest drug conspiracy ever shut down by the Chicago Police Department without the cooperation and assistance of federal law enforcement agencies.
Operation Capitol Hill targeted a sprawling and violent drug organization headed by notorious street gangster Shawn "Shakey" Betts. Chicago police gang crimes officials say Betts' faction of the Four Corner Hustlers, called the Body Snatchers, which is the enforcement arm of the main gang, is responsible for many of the shootings and murders on the West Side in recent years.
Among those murders, Oak Park police indicated, is the September 2007 murder of street gang member Clarence Fambro on Division Street near Cuyler Avenue.
Betts, 41, was paroled from prison in 2006. Chicago police say the West Side experienced a spike in gang-related violence around that time. Officials expressed hope that by largely dismantling Betts' operation, some level of peace may be restored to the Austin neighborhood.
"Anytime we go after the gang hierarchy, we are dismantling the root cause of violence and organized crime at the highest levels," said Organized Crime Chief Frank Limon.
Oak Park police officials, who have dealt with several "spillover" shooting incidents the past two years related to Austin gang violence, praised Chicago's efforts but also expressed continuing concerns.
"Chicago did a magnificent job of taking down Betts' organization," said Police Chief Rick Tanksley. "It's a positive development, but we've not yet seen the end of it."
If past experience is any guide, Tanksley said, others will sooner or later step into Betts' shoes.
"Some group is going to fill that void," said Tanksley, noting that the practice of Chicago police following such sweeps is to flood neighborhoods with additional police. That helps control the newly quieted neighborhoods for a time, but can have other effects.
Gang members often move from areas where police pressure is heaviest to other neighborhoods. Tanksley said his department intends to make sure gang members don't see Oak Park as an alternative.
"We have to be vigilant and aggressive," he said.