Gangs are nearly everywhere, and that includes Forest Park.

That was the message delivered last week by Forest Park police officer Mike O’Connor to an audience of about 50 people at a meeting hosted by Citizens United in Forest Park at the Forest Park Middle School.

“We have a lot gang members traveling through town, some living in town, but not a lot gang activity here,” O’Connor said. “A lot of the higher ups are moving out of Chicago. Some of them are moving here.”

Some reputed top gang leaders who have recently lived in Forest Park include Ray Longstreet, allegedly the leader of the Four Corner Hustlers gang, who was arrested this spring by federal authorities and charged with drug distribution on the west side of Chicago.

Other Forest Parkers recently arrested and charged with drug offenses include Jermaine Banks, known on the street as Puba, who was allegedly involved in a drug operation controlled by the Mafia Insane Vice Lords, and Wallace Simmons, also reputedly connected to the Vice Lords.

Drugs are the lifeblood of gangs, according to O’Connor. Gangs exist to make money for their leaders. Selling drugs is what brings in this money.

“Every gang is involved in drugs,” said O’Connor. “That’s their bread and butter.”

O’Connor is a member of the recently formed gang resources unit of the Forest Park police department. His talk and power point presentation focused on the history of gangs and how to recognize gang symbols and identifiers.

He explained that gangs in the Chicago area are divided into two large alliances. One is called “People,” the other “Folk.” Many different individual gangs belong to one or the other of these two groupings.

“People” gangs are identified by their choice of color, usually red, their symbol, a five pointed star, and wear their caps tilted to the left.

“Folk” gangs use the six pointed Star of David, angle their hats to the right and use the color blue.

O’Connor presented numerous photos of graffiti, much of it from Forest Park, that used gang symbols. He noted that while gang activity is not widespread in Forest Park it does exist. He said that the Vice Lords tend to operate on the north side of town while the Latin Kings stick to the south side.

O’Connor informed parents of warning signs that may indicate that their children are becoming involved in gangs. These include showing an unusual interest in clothing of a particular color and with a particular logo, using unusual hand signals to communicate with friends, having specific drawings or gang symbols on school books, clothes or tattoos, having unexplained cash or jewelry, and speaking in gang style slang.

Gang membership must be taken extremely seriously, according to O’Connor.

“Gang members are 60 times more likely to be murdered than non-gang members,” O’Connor said.

The gang resources unit of the Forest Park police department is currently relatively small. It is funded by a grant and is staffed by officers working overtime in addition to their usual shifts.

“It’s not a formal unit at this point, but I think that’s down the road,” said O’Connor.

Audience members thought the presentation was helpful and reassuring.

“The thing that I learned the most is that yes there is definitely a gang presence, and yes, we have to be aware of it and we need to be on top of it,” said Anne Dorneker. “And it’s nice to know that we’re finally not sweeping it under the rug…They’re finally doing something about the situation.”