Rockford ponders gang summit as murder rate hits record high

ROCKFORD (AP)—Frustrated authorities are wondering whether a gang summit might help solve an escalating battle for drug turf that has made this the deadliest year ever in Rockford.

Police said Monday they would not broker negotiations between criminals, but an alderman and a citizens group pressed for an officially sanctioned meeting of two rival street gangs.

‘‘If we know who the people are, let’s call a summit and talk to them,’‘ said Alderman Jesse Gulley, whose ward has been the site of much of the violence.

The suggestion surfaced after one of the most violent weekends in the city’s history.

Emanuel J. Morris, 22, became the city’s 20th homicide victim of 1993 when he was abducted from his front porch early Sunday and shot. The previous record for the northern Illinois city of 140,000 was 19, set in 1988.

Five other men were wounded by gunfire on Rockford streets during the weekend. Most of the violence has been in poor neighborhoods on the city’s west side.

The year-to-date homicide rate of 1.4 per 10,000 people in Rockford, Illinois’ second-largest city, compares with 2.4 homicides per 10,000 people in Chicago so far this year.

Police had made no arrests by Monday in the Morris case, which they said appeared to be gang- and drug-related.

Police blame the rise in violence on rival gangs that are battling over drug turf. The fight has escalated since a July 28 police raid in which 31 gang members were arrested.

‘‘We are making more arrests and recovering more weapons than ever,’‘ Deputy Chief Dominic Iasparro told a news conference Sunday. ‘‘We are making a dent, but every time we do, it gets more violent.’‘

Jeff Morris, assistant deputy chief for operations, said Monday that the police were willing to talk to anybody, including gang members, about the problem. But he said police would draw the line at gangland negotiations.

‘‘We’re trying to put these people in jail,’‘ he said. ‘‘‘When you indicate you’re going to enter into negotiations, you need some middle ground. I don’t know that we’re going to give anybody some turf so they can sell drugs on it.’‘

Jacqueline Confer, head of the citizens group Coalition for a Safer Community, said city officials should consider holding a gang summit because other efforts to curb the bloodshed, including her coalition’s own gun buy-back program, haven’t worked.

In the summit, gang leaders could try to work through the issues that have caused recent bloodshed, she said.