As more gang leaders are arrested, convicted and sent to prison, the gangs they left behind have become "very splintered," he said. Young men on the city's streets agree. "There is no one to control this, so it has become haywire," said Devon Tims, who identified himself as one of the Chicago Vice Lords, making him one of the city's estimated 70,000 gang members. In interviews, McCarthy said the "fracturing" of larger gangs into smaller ones has doubled the number of factions and conflicts. "These kids have guns and they end up using them," he said. Robert Ray / AP A heroin pouch lies next to a sidewalk on Chicago's Homan Avenue. In a section of Chicago's South and West sides, narcotic sales is big business and is attributed to some of the recent surge in violence and murders. McCarthy said the gangs are far more territorial and rigid than those that operated when he was a ranking commander in the New York City Police Department and the chief in Newark, N.J. And that means trouble when a gang member simply crosses the street into rival territory. "If we see a car with three of (one gang's) guys three blocks over there (on another gang's turf), they are probably going to shoot someone," said Leo Schmitz, a gang enforcement commander who was redeployed in January to command Englewood's police district. The demolition of the city's infamous public housing complexes in recent years also played a role. While the high rises long were considered a massive failure that warehoused the city's poorest families and became magnets for gangs, tearing them down caused a new set of problems by scattering gang members to other parts of the city. Some of them eventually settled in the thousands of houses that were abandoned during the nation's recent financial crisis. There the battle for supremacy started anew. Residents and activists from the most violent neighborhoods have seen similar campaigns to combat gang violence over the years and were both hopeful and skeptical about the latest one. Jean Carter-Hill, an activist from Englewood, said she thinks the increase in officers patrolling the streets is helping clean up the area but that the city needs to do more, such as helping youths with conflict resolution. "Every time there is a conflict, these young people get a gun," she said. "And everyone seems to know where a gun is."
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