STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Let's go next to the city of Chicago, which is notorious for gang violence. It has one of the largest gang populations in the country. So Chicago police are trying an experiment. They want to drive down gang-related murders, and here's what they do: If a single gang member is believed to have committed a violent act, there are consequences for the entire gang, arrests and prosecutions on local and federal charges.
NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: On top of a bookcase in Lorraine Sanya's dining room, there's a small candle flickering next to a framed flier showing her 19-year-old nephew and 17-year-old grandson.
Ms. LORRAINE SANYA: On September 25th, 2009, cousins Percy Lavelle Day and Tyrone Williams were the victims of a double homicide.
CORLEY: Sanya's grandson Percy was an honor roll student at a technical school - her Nephew Tyrone, a college sophomore. The two were gunned down as they ran towards Sanya's home. Percy died in the backyard - Tyrone, in the dining room.
Ms. SANYA: He fell right there, and he came in and he said Auntie, I've been shot. And for a quick moment I said, oh, Tyrone, stop playing. And then I said, no, he does not play like that. And when I came out my room, he was there. And what hurts is that I was hiding when I heard the shots.
CORLEY: Police say the two cousins were mistaken for gang members. There have been no arrests, and now Chicago police are trying a different strategy in Sanya's west side neighborhood. This summer, police superintendent Jody Weis -along with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials - held what's known as a call-in, summoning a small group of former and current gang members on parole to a meeting. Sanya, her daughter, and son-in-law were there, too, to speak directly to the gang members.
Ms. SANYA: I explained to them the effect that the death of my grandson and nephew has taken on the family, and it's like we're in a time warp, you know?
CORLEY: That sort of direct contact between gangs and residents is part of the city's gang violence reduction plan. Gang members are also offered help with getting jobs, finishing school, or getting drug treatments. Then there's the hammer. Police warn if one gang member is suspected of murder, police will target the entire gang, and its members can face federal, as well as local charges. Superintendent Weis says in one murder investigation, more than 60 people linked to a Chicago street gang were arrested and charged with misdemeanors and felonies.
Mr. JODY WEIS (Superintendent, Chicago Police): It is our obligation to the residents of Chicago to attack this violence from every angle and with every resource. The message will be made very clear: Gang violence must stop.
CORLEY: Not everyone is completely comfortable with the tactic. Some Chicago officials say it gives gangs too much status if the police superintendent meets with them. Current and former gang members aren't too happy with it, either. When they went to the call-in, they thought they were going to a regular parole meeting. At their own press conference, Reginald Akkeem Berry, an ex-convict who runs a program called Saving Our Sons, lashed out at the gang summit initiative.
Mr. REGINALD AKKEEM BERRY (Director, Saving Our Sons): They're giving an ultimatum, quit it, instead of an alternative. What we're offering these young men are alternatives, saying, listen, brother. Get off the corner selling these bags, and come on this construction site and pick up this brick.
CORLEY: The organizer of the press conference was 32-year-old Jim Allen, a self-described member of the Vice Lords, standing on a corner where one of the city's police surveillance cameras blinked overhead and kids played basketball nearby. Allen said the police arrest did have an impact.
Mr. JIM ALLEN (Member of Vice Lords): It's definitely a dent, because that gang didn't have a lot of members to begin with, so 60 is a lot for them. You know, it just may be the demise, to a certain degree, for that gang.
CORLEY: This strategy has been used elsewhere, in Boston and Cincinnati, for example. Criminologist David Kennedy with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice says many gang murders stem from perceived insults rather than drug sales, and gangs start to police themselves when they know they'll face a crackdown because of the actions of just one of their own. He says Chicago's pilot is even more crucial because of the number of gangs here.
Mr. DAVID KENNEDY (Criminologist, John Jay College of Criminal Law): It usually takes a series of these operations before people come to believe that this is real. There's been a lot of talk in Chicago about Cincinnati, which is one of our better projects at the moment. It took three times before the streets in Cincinnati believed it, and then at the end of the first year, there was a 50 percent reduction in gang homicide in Cincinnati.
CORLEY: Chicago police superintendent Jody Weis says if gang-related murders decline in the city's targeted west side neighborhoods, the strategy will be implemented in other high-crime areas.
Lorraine Sanya says she's hoping for that type of success.
Ms. SANYA: Nobody should have to go through what we have gone through, but so many parents, they have. And I want it to just stop.
CORLEY: Police plan to have call-in with other gang members soon. They aren't saying when or where.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.