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Gangs
in the Northwest Suburbs

by Debbie Carlson, CLP
The key to gang prevention is educating every person, especially children, to what gangs really are even if this means one child at a time.

It used to be that GANGS were only in the big cities, but now it is a known fact that they have infiltrated all areas where there are children and financial opportunity. Gangs in the suburbs are a different animal.

Years ago, the idea was just to move "mem" from your town. It proved to be an ineffective method. Suburban life is rapidly changing with the world around it. The 1990 census indicates that a 125% increase in Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in the previously white neighborhoods has occurred. Alienation and under-employment of these citizens often lead to sense of no control in their lives. Gang membership and drug trafficking are avenues to obtaining power, prestige, and financial gain. The suburbs are also a very lucrative area for this type of activity. The adult gang leaders are definitely in it for the money. A good environment for gang growth is where youth lack appealing jobs, educational background, and recreational activities.

In early 1993, twenty-five (25) gangs were identified in an area that encompasses 16 municipalities. In the northwest suburbs of Chicago, the gang problems are in the early stages of development. To prevent further maturation and strengthening of existing gangs, communities have begun to identify elements of gang culture and the symbols of identity and power. This is being accomplished by communities banding together to share resources and information. In our case, communities developed RAPP (Regional Action Planning Project).

You will notice that there is no mention of gangs in the RAPP title. Back in 1990, gangs were not accepted as a problem. It was politically detrimental to acknowledge the presence of gangs. NOW it is a different story. The network now consists of 65 community agencies who have volunteered one or more representatives and funding to develop RAPP. Currently the communities covered by RAPP are Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Elk Grove, Hoffinan Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, and Wheeling. Most of the villages, police departments, park districts, school districts and social service agencies are deeply committed to the project. This shows through the successes that have been attained.

There is a Task Force of 160 volunteers that give over 2,000 hours each year in meetings, fund raising and hands-on delivery of programs. In addition, the school districts' volunteers logged at least 1,600 hours in training and delivery of curriculum.

Curriculum for all ages, 1st grade through high school, has been developed and implemented in many of the schools. More will be added in 1995. Alternative activities are being brought into the neighborhoods with the greatest gang potential (though gangs know no boundaries) to make the people aware of the opportunities available to them.

28 Illinois Parks & Recreation January/February 1995


Like any new organization, RAPP recently went through a planning stage to make sure that our direction is on target. Through the increase in demand for our services and the growth of membership, it is exciting to know that we are on the right track. Now our largest concern is how to find funding for all that needs to be done. Each governmental agency pays yearly dues, but this does not cover the expenses of operation, let alone program delivery. Grants and fund-raising efforts are constant projects.

RAPP was honored this year with the Governor's Hometown Award for populations 2,500,000 and over. It was wonderful to receive state recognition for our accomplishments. Also in December 1994, we were granted $180,000 from the Cook County Board to support our SECOND CHOICE program, an alternative to sentencing program through the Cook County Juvenile Judicial system. This will cover three separate programs with 12 children in each session. It incorporates community service, counseling, job training, and more to help the person realize what he/she has done and what can be changed for their future success.

The major benefit of RAPP is the cooperative efforts of the members. The regional approach facilitates a decision making process which includes representatives from each community. Multiple resources within those communities work together to develop coordinated, comprehensive efforts to address the emerging gang presence.

RAPP has also changed the way of thinking for professional people and leaders when it comes to the gang situation. Director's Rapp Program Manual has been developed for community use. It aids in understanding the avenues needed to deter gangs. The quality of life and the economic development of the communities involved in RAPP has been enhanced with the sharing of knowledge and recourses. Gang activity has been impeded due to the cohesive action that has been taken by RAPP and the increased community awareness of the issues. The gangs themselves are understanding that these communities are not going to surrender in their struggle against them.

The united front is obvious due to the consistency in the handling of problems and subsequent successes. There is a computer network being set up through RAPP to give all members a vehicle to obtain current, pertinent information on gang activity or gang prevention programming. We are in the process of developing a SCHOCAP Committee which will increase RAPP's ability to share information on this network. The key to gang prevention is educating every person, especially children, to what gangs really are even if this means one child at a time.

There are more programs, projects, and ideas going on inside RAPP. I have tried to give you the general concept. If you would like more information, please feel free to contact me.

On a personal note, belonging to this organization has opened my eyes to the seriousness of gangs and that it is a problem that must be faced immediately The contacts that I have made have been extremely helpful to RAPP and my park district. It is absolutely amazing the amount that can be accomplished by working together and sharing resources and knowledge. This concept is not a new one, but one that must return to keep us alive and well. Being a community servant means serving your community in the most effective and productive way possible. All of you involved in such efforts should be proud of the professionalism and sincere effort that has been given to fixing an illness in our communities. There is an answer to any problem through cooperation and determination.

Being a community servant means serving your community in the most effective and productive way possible. There is an answer to any problem through cooperation and determination.

Special thanks to Philip Herman, RAPP Coordinator, and Annette Rossi, Director of Development, Omni Youth Services, for their help in writing this article.

Debbie Carlson is the Director of Parks & Recreation for River Trails Park District and President of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association. For more information on RAPP, contact Debbie at (708) 298-4445.

Illinois Parks & Recreation January/February 1995 29


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