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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

Drug-Fueled Gang Battle Sparking Violence On Streets Emptied By Coronavirus

"Right now we’re getting a lot of shots fired calls because with the streets clear it’s easier for gang members to spot each other when they’re out," said the commander of the Albany Park Police District.

Bullet holes in the glass of a first floor apartment at 3359 W. Wilson Ave., the scene of violence earlier this year.
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IRVING PARK — Despite the pandemic, gangs in Irving Park and Albany Park are still feuding and even taking advantage of the empty streets to find their rivals more easily, the area’s police commander said Thursday afternoon.

The recent uptick in shootings in the area is tied to drug sales and the gang feud, Albany Park (17th) District Police Cmdr. Ronald A. Pontecore Jr. said during an online community police meeting.

The ongoing conflict also includes the February shootings that left a firefighter wounded in Albany Park and a woman shot dead in Irving Park.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We have a violence issue and it’s revolving around narcotics sales,” Pontecore said on the video conference call.

For the most part, neighborhood residents are adhering to the stay at home order and the new social distancing rules in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, he said.

“But some of the people who aren’t are gang members,” the police commander said. “Right now we’re getting a lot of shots fired calls because with the streets clear it’s easier for gang members to spot each other when they’re out.”

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd), Ald. Carlos Ramírez Rosa (35th), Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th), State Rep. Jaime Andrade and the Albany Park Police District organized Thursday’s meeting after a woman was wounded in an Irving Park shooting last week

“The 17th District has one of the weirdest gangs dynamics in the city that I’ve seen in my career,” Pontecore told the conference call, which peaked at 145 participants.

Gang members in the area don’t congregate on corners, in parks or on front porches. Instead, they spend most of their time calling out rivals or arranging drug sales via social media, he said.

“Gangs spend most of their time online and then get into their cars and commit crimes,” Pontecore said.

Rodriguez said her office looked at citywide crime data to compare last week to the same period last year and saw a 42 percent increase in calls for shots fired.

“The whole structure of social support has collapsed due to the pandemic. All these direct services have disappeared that could have helped address this violence. At the same time many people have lost their jobs,” she said. “The virus is exacerbating already existing issues in the city’s neighborhoods that nonprofits and other social services were trying to address.”

Rodriguez asked people to stay at home so police can spend less time enforcing the stay home order and more time addressing the violence in the district. 

“Please keep reaching out to us and CAPS. Let’s all work together to keep each other safe,” Rodriguez said. 

Pontecore also brought up Gary Carlson, the landlord of buildings involved in the two high-profile February shootings. The commander said he is working with elected officials to file a complaint against Carlson in the county’s housing court regarding how the landlord manages his properties.

Rodriguez, however, said the violence over the past two weeks did not appear to have anything to do with Carlson’s properties. Carlson could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

Thursday’s meeting appears to be the first time the city has hosted a CAPS meeting online, Pontecore said. 

The call was marred by a chat section riddled with profanities and racial slurs. One participant repeatedly flipped his middle finger to the camera before changing his avatar to porn. Other people hula-hooped or turned their camera toward their cats.

The comment section was eventually shut down by the videoconference organizers.

“I’m sorry about all the idiots,” Andrade said.

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