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Brighton Park Suffers From Serious Gang Issues, But Also Has Vigilant Neighbors Stepping In

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Breaking surveillance cameras, cutting street lights, intimidating neighbors – Chicago's Deering (9th) Police District – which includes Brighton Park, Back of the Yards, and parts of Gage Park, among other communities – fields more complaints about gang activity than any other area.

As CBS 2's Tim McNicholas reported, the calls are a sign of a vigilant neighborhood, but also a dangerous problem.

Chicago is home to more than 20,000 city blocks. The one at 40th Street and Sacramento Avenue in Brighton Park ranks 40th when it comes to 911 calls and gang activity.

"It almost feels inhumane," said Myriam Perez-Lozano.

Perez-Lozano lives on the block. One of her childhood memories is the shooting of a 14-year-old in 2006.

"Saw him right here - like there was just a body, a bike, blood, a hat," Perez-Lozano said.

Now, she sees gang members on the block every week.

"It's 2020 and it's still happening," Perez-Lozano said. "There's probably 12-year-olds that maybe witnessed something that I haven't."

Brighton Park has dialed 911 more than 6,000 times about gang activity since 2015.

"We have a very good relationship with the community and we encourage them to call and they do," said Chicago Police Deering District Cmdr. Don Jerome.

"There is a noticeable gang issue on this block and many of the blocks in my communities," said Ald. Ray Lopez (15th). "But that also tells me that people are stepping up and people have had enough, and they're tired of it."

He said a video from September shows gang members disabling surveillance cameras in the neighborhood. They have also cut wires on street lights to leave parts of Brighton Park in the dark.

Just this year, Lopez said gang members vandalized his own home and his office.

"I would be concerned if we had a high amount of gang activity with a low amount of calls," he said. "We see that in other neighborhoods where people have just given up."

Lopez has a nickname for this area near 43rd and Rockwell streets - Recruitment Row. That is because gang members often try to recruit kids leaving school at James Shields Elementary School, 4250 S. Rockwell St.

What can happen to prevent all this and stem the tide in the area?

"So often, we just accepted gang life as a reality," Lopez said. "We've been working very hard to bridge that divide and say this is not normal for us."

Lopez said residents need to keep calling, because it is working. While the Deering District still leads the city in gang-related calls, those numbers have actually gone down since 2016.

Violent crime started to drop in that same period.

But Perez-Lozano said it hasn't dropped enough, and there was recently another homicide.

"A community center, a youth center - Brighton Park needs somewhere where the youth can go for sanctuary," she said.

"There are amenities in the neighborhood," Lopez said. "However, the problem we have in the neighborhood is parents oftentimes simply do not know what their children are up to."

Whatever the solution is, it can't come soon enough for the people of Brighton Park.

Cmdr. Jerome also said he sends officers to blocks with high call volumes to address repetitive problems.

Another strategy that has helped is the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, or CAPS. The program has community members meet with beat officers to discuss their concerns and collaborate on solutions to problems like gang activity.

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