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Hanover Park deals with flare-up in gang violence
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/31/2009 12:01 AM

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Hanover Park residents remain unfazed, for the most part, by a recent spate of gang-related violence, which isn't to say they're totally at ease.

"It's been unfortunate," said Steve Skotzko, a 40-year resident of the village. "It's not like this every year. There are probably good years and bad years. This is a bad year, I would say."

Teenagers have been involved in three stabbings and two shootings in the village since mid-March, with the latest shooting, on May 23, causing the death of 16-year-old Jesus Sanchez, whose funeral was held Saturday. That comes after two Hanover Park homicides last November.

And Hanover Park certainly isn't alone. Elgin saw a couple of shootings resulting in one death last Halloween, another gang-related homicide in January and more shootings in February. Prospect Heights and Streamwood have seen gang attacks just this month.

Yet, the recent spate of violence is nothing like the level of suburban gang violence in the early 1990s, police say, even though, then or now, the boundaries drawn on maps mean little to the gangs responsible for much of the violence.

"Gangs know no boundaries," Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said earlier this year in forming a gang-fighting partnership with other local state police departments. "They don't stop at the Chicago city border, Cook County line or even the Illinois state line. They will go wherever they can find vulnerable communities and spread their membership."

To that end, vigilance and punishment make for a large part of prevention.

Hanover Park Deputy Chief David Webb insisted there has been no overall increase in gang activity in the village.

"One of the things we are acknowledging is we've experienced some serious activity over here," he said, "but we don't want to lose sight of the fact that we had the lowest crime rate since 1974 last year. ... Our commitment to the community and the safety of the community is not questioned at any time."

He said all gang-related and other violent crimes have been solved over the last eight months up to last week's murder.

Stroll through Hanover Park and you'll see a calm suburb with baby swings hanging from front trees and kids' rocking horses in the back yard, albeit a suburb in the midst of change, especially over the last 10 years. In the most recent 2000 census, of the village's 38,278 residents, 68 percent were white and 27 percent Hispanic, leading to Hanover Park's motto of "unity through diversity."

It's a community that doesn't need a public-service campaign to form neighborhood-watch groups.

Anita Reinprecht, who has lived 27 years at her home just off the intersection of Lake and Walnut streets, said she's seen no recent increase in gang activity. "Not in this (neighborhood)," she said, "because I'm up there in that window, and they all know that I'm the watchdog."

She feels comfortable going out at night, saying, "I ride my bike," although she did add that's after things improved when a troubled apartment building across the street went condo a couple of years ago.

"I have seen nothing here. I've never experienced anything or any loss here," said Howard Smith, an 18-year resident just down the street. "We have a few vacant houses, and every once in a while they get broken into, but teenagers, they'll do that."

"I think it's just the same," said Ariel Azarias, a 21-year veteran as a letter carrier in Hanover Park, although he said there were other areas of the village that weren't as safe.

In the Mulberry Street area where Sanchez lived, Azarias' colleague Melissa Aschom said she's had no trouble delivering the mail there over the last eight years. A superior had to tell her about the recent shooting.

Other residents, however, were a little more leery, especially of late.

"I walk my dog, but I won't walk her after dark," Skotzko said.

"Yeah, I see 'em, driving around, caps on backward," said Arnold Eisenbraun, who has lived in the same house since it was built in 1961. "Never caused me any problems. Makes you nervous, sure. The neighborhood has changed so much."

Eisenbraun and Skotzko have resisted any thought of moving and consider the uptick in teen violence a flare-up. "It could be economy-related, job-related," Skotzko said. "My house is worth less now because of the economy, so I wouldn't consider selling it because of the loss."

That's been the same general trend in other suburbs.

"Compared to the early '90s, when we had really high levels of gang violence, it's nothing like that. But we've had some spikes," said Lt. Bill Wolf, commander of Elgin's Special Investigations Division. "We definitely saw a spike last year and into the first part of this year. ... Since then, knock on wood, things have been pretty quiet. We're doing our best to be very proactive."