Violence down from two decades ago
By Brian Stanley firstname.lastname@example.org May 18, 2013 7:46PM
Det. Sgt. Darrell Gavin prepares to give new Joliet Police officers onformation on Joliet gangs. | John Patsch~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 20, 2013 6:03AM
JOLIET — Joshua Hoehn was visiting Christopher Perry on Jan. 22 when they made a snack run to a nearby gas station.
As they walked out of Perry’s house in the 200 block of Hunter Avenue, according to police, a red sport utility vehicle with two men inside pulled up. The passenger opened fire, reports said.
Perry, 24, was shot in the back. Hoehn, 23, was hit in the shoulder and leg.
Perry was taken to Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center. As he was being moved from the ambulance stretcher to the hospital gurney a handgun fell from his pocket and struck the floor.
“It was loaded,” Chief Mike Trafton said. “Luckily for everyone it didn’t go off.”
Perry was pronounced dead in the emergency room. Hoehn survived the attack.
There was a shootout in the parking lot at his wake six days later. Police say Hoehn’s 21-year-old brother, Jeremy, was involved. Police say both men had gang connections.
Joliet was more violent in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
A record 23 people were murdered in Joliet in 1990 and 22 the following year. Most were gang-related killings. Twenty years ago (1993) there were 296 shootings, over 120 of them drive-bys, but the city was down to 49 gang shootings and 11 murders in 2003.
Last year, five of Joliet’s 11 homicides were gang-related. There were 191 shootings reported — 42 were gang-related, police said.
Just like a quarter-century ago, The Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, Vice Lords and 26ers remain the major gangs in the area. But now they’ve factioned into sub groups, Det. Sgt. Darrell Gavin said.
Gavin, the department’s gang intelligence officer, believes gang activity is now more about illegal income than controlling turf.
“Animosity between gang members is more about profit than territory. I’ve asked a suspect why he was dealing with someone from a different gang and he’ll say ‘I work with anybody who can make me money,’” Gavin said.
It appears every gang has also become racially integrated in recent years, though they remain virtual boys clubs. The handful of females known to police are usually girlfriends of other members and don’t participate when violence breaks out.
Drug dealing on the street is still the top gang activity. But shoplifting, counterfeiting, pimping and burglary are all popular ways to “earn” a living.
Some drug supplies are brought directly from Mexico with a quick stop off the highway, while larger amounts and guns usually have to be picked up in Chicago, Gavin said.
To track gang activity, police have a database that is updated daily to keep tabs on approximately 2,700 people. These are either suspects who have admitted they are members during questioning or are a “known associate” having three contacts with officers investigating gang activity.
Gavin said the federally-mandated database currently has 1,500 active self-admitted members and 500 associates, but estimates that’s about half the actual population.
Police contacts with gang members are announced at the department’s weekly command staff meeting where patrol beats can be shifted if areas show an increase.
But a quarter-century of run-ins with law enforcement have educated gangs on police tactics and the legal system.
The “party lifestyle” of a gang member has great appeal for most adolescents and Gavin said gangs try to get their “shorties while they’re young because juvenile laws are relatively lax so they can do the heavy lifting of carrying dope and shooting.”
There are some gang members in their 40s with lengthy entries in the database, but Joliet police haven’t arrested anyone in their 50s for gang activity. Yet.
“As they get older, members drift away from what’s going to draw focus from police. The ones in their early 20s are the most violent,” Gavin said.
Meanwhile, the code of “No Snitching” is proclaimed loud as ever on the street. But “they all do it,” Gavin chuckled. “Anyone (questioned) will give information. How can I help ... get myself out of trouble and hurt my rivals.”
Gang members frequently overshare on social media — to the delight of investigators.
“They put it all out there. Set up deals. Advertise crime,” Gavin said, noting subpoenas and court orders are still required for some monitoring, but are issued routinely.
Shifting the focus to finance instead of territory means gangs are more active throughout the year instead of just during warmer weather. So, while it’s bad for business, violence is always a threat.
An increase in violent gang activity is more likely to get gang leaders locked up. As others try to fill that vacuum, more violence results, Gavin said.
“When they’re willing to tell us, even anonymously, what they saw or heard, we can learn about it before major problems set in. It helps everyone,” he said.
Stopping it early
Gang crime is no different than organized crime, Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow said. Recent changes to state racketeering laws now allow cases to be prosecuted as such.
Fifteen- and 16-year-olds who commit violent, gang-related crimes can be prosecuted as adults. Glasgow “didn’t hesitate for a second” last year to do just that when a 15-year-old boy allegedly shot at students in the Joliet Central High School parking lot.
“We can’t just work on prosecution. We have to be concerned with (what leads) to gang activity and use forfeiture money to fund against it,” Glasgow said.
Nearly all significant drug dealers caught in the area have had gang connections and using the racketeering laws hits the problem on several levels, Glasgow said. Citizen involvement needs to be the first step in fighting it — from supporting programs for at-risk youth to neighborhood improvement, he said.
“Gangs prey on people who are disenfranchised and they test what’s seen by law enforcement,” Glasgow said.
He also feels steps like removing graffiti quickly and beautification projects can have a high impact in showing gangs the community won’t tolerate them.
But some people don’t get that message until it’s far too late.
On Jan. 3, 2011, Vernon McCormick Jr. waited outside a house in Lockport Township and watched for movement through the windows. McCormick, 24, “wanted retaliation” against Jevon Lesley, but when he shot through the blinds, he injured Jevon’s cousin and another friend. He also fatally struck Jevon’s brother, 14-year-old Deonte.
After being found guilty of murder last year, McCormick admitted, “I ain’t no choirboy.”
At McCormick’s sentencing, six Joliet police officers testified about earlier arrests where he was carrying guns, drugs or both. McCormick told his friends in the courtroom that selling drugs and gangbanging had led to nothing.
Before being sentenced to 85 years in prison, McCormick spoke of how he’d grown up without a father and “turned to the streets” looking for acceptance. He then addressed six friends by name.
“Look where I am sitting at. I am facing 45 to life. There is something you can do. There is something you can do. We all know better,” he said.