Forest Park is one of seven communities in the near west suburbs that may join a police task force aimed at curbing gang activity. Chief James Ryan endorsed the initiative before the village council on Monday and received a 4-0 vote to move forward.
Commissioner Tim Gillian was not present for the Nov. 27 meeting.
According to a draft of the by-laws, departments in Forest Park, Berwyn, Cicero, Lyons, North Riverside, Oak Park and Riverside would each assign at least one officer to the unit. Task force members would be assigned on an “as needed basis” to what will likely be a seasonal operation. That operation, called “Safety Net,” would be governed by its own board of directors in an effort to target neighborhoods seeing an increase in gang activity.
The proposed agreement is for two years.
“This task force will function as an ad hoc group, working together two to three days every other week,” Ryan said in a Nov. 1 memo to the village administrator and mayor. “The purpose of this group is to identify gangs and gang members that are active in all of our communities.”
Village police have already begun tracking area gang members with a database of their own, and according to Ryan, there are some 500 names in that system. The database is six months old.
That figure accounts for gang members that may not live in Forest Park. According to the chief, there are 45 or 50 gang members living in the village.
“We will be spending quite a bit of time in Forest Park,” Ryan said of the task force.
Chiefs from each of the seven communities will serve on the task force’s board of directors. This group will be responsible for policy decisions, procedural regulations and appointing personnel. The board of directors would appoint a project director who will act as the manager of the task force with complete control over personnel and investigations.
Salaries and benefits for the task force officers would continue to be paid by the individual municipalities.
A training director and project coordinator will also be named by the board, according to the by-laws presented to the village council.
The proposal is the latest of several new efforts focused on stemming criminal activity in Forest Park. A three-man tactical unit within the police department began patrols in September with a focus on street crimes. Deputy Chief Tom Aftanas said earlier this year the unit is not focused on gang activity specifically, rather the issues of burglaries, drugs and other incidents that require more police resources.
The announcement of the new patrol unit was made at the second in a series of neighborhood meetings called by Mayor Anthony Calderone aimed at giving the public a chance to air concerns to ranking officers. Calderone said the idea for the meetings came after a shooting several months ago in which no one was injured.
Ryan was asked at Monday’s council meeting to quantify the amount of gang activity that occurs in Forest Park. The only definitive gang crime he is aware of was the 2004 killing of a Latin King on Roosevelt Road, he said. That murder remains unsolved, but the chief said he is 99 percent sure the killer is another gang member who lives in Berwyn.
Other crimes that may be gang related include drug offenses, thefts and some violent crimes.