'Uneventful' at Last in Elgin Police Report Decline in Gang Crimes, Violence

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Byline: Sara Burnett Daily Herald Staff Writer

It's a Wednesday night in late December, and officers from the Elgin police department's fourth watch and gang unit take their seats in the roll call room.

Tonight's announcements?

A woman said a man she knows pointed a gun at her this afternoon. Charges were approved against a man who stole a motorcycle in October. And some guys posing as ComEd employees tried to talk their way into an elderly man's house.

"Pretty uneventful," said Sgt. Brad Entler, supervisor of the gang unit.

That these same officers earlier in the year were dealing with frequent reports of gang shootings, firebombings and murders makes "uneventful" an understatement.

Gang crimes and violence have decreased dramatically in Elgin in the second half of 1998, thanks in large part to increased patrols, neighborhood groups and support from government officials, police said.

And as the city moves into 1999 in a state of relative quiet, Elgin police hope things will stay that way.

There have been fewer than 20 shootings in Elgin since August - about one-third the number the city saw in the first half of the year, when frightened residents were up in arms and the department was requesting additional officers.

And after three murders in two months this past spring, the city's only homicide this fall was not considered gang-related, police said.

"There isn't any one person or group of people who you can say was responsible," Entler said. "It's a combination of a lot of people - of everyone - working together."

But much of the strategy was crafted right here, in roll calls and meetings between members of the police department.

Almost immediately after the shootings began, officers were moved from routine patrol shifts to the fourth watch - commonly referred to as the "power shift" because its officers work during the heaviest crime hours, from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.

They were instructed to be more aggressive and to question any behavior that may be gang related.

At the same time, the gang unit was stepping up its surveillance and patrol activities, Entler said.

Each day the strategies were evaluated. Supervisors passed information on to their superiors, who funneled messages up to the chief and his deputies. Likewise, information was sent back down the chain of command.

"For a long time, that seemed to be all we talked about - how to stop the shooting," said Elgin Chief Charles Gruber.

It was a disheartening time for a department that saw fewer gang shootings in all of 1997 than in the first six months of 1998. …