Target 2 Investigates: Gangs in Northeast Wisconsin - WBAY

Target 2 Investigates: Gangs in Northeast Wisconsin

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Green Bay -

For the first time, law enforcement in Brown County acknowledge there is a gang problem in Northeast Wisconsin.

In the last several months, authorities have investigated a fight at Green Bay Preble High School and a shooting at a home in Howard -- saying they were gang-related but isolated events.

Action 2 News examined those events and learned those incidents are just part of a much larger concern of gangs throughout Northeast Wisconsin. It's a concern that's prompting Green Bay police to begin working with state officials to aggressively target gangs and the crimes associated with them.

Take all the images and stereotypes you have when you hear the word "gang" and toss them aside. While police say there is absolutely a gang problem in the Green Bay area, it's not anything like what you see in the movies or the kind of violent, deadly gang activity in Chicago or L.A.

Police don't want it to get to that level, either, and are beginning an aggressive fight to fix the problem.

Police photos of graffiti, all taken in Green Bay in the last two years, paint an ugly story -- one that says gangs are here and so is the crime that goes with it.

"We do see the batteries, the fights, the disorderly conduct behavior, but typically we don't see the shootings and the homicides and things like that," Lieutenant Ben Allen, Green Bay Police Department, says.

The Green Bay Police Department's Gang Identification Unit told Target 2 it can tie 200 large disturbances, weapons calls or aggravated assaults to just one gang in 2012 and 2013.

The department recognizes this is an immediate problem.

Its 15 officer gang identification unit is now partnering with other regional, state and federal agencies to identify gangs and gang activity.

"You have to look at the root cause -- not the names, not the colors, not the history, but what was the root cause --and then focus on that," Bryan Kastelic, commander of the Native American Drug and Gang Initiative Task Force and a state Department of Criminal Investigations officer, says.

Green Bay's gang unit currently has more than 1,000 people identified or confirmed as being part of a gang in the greater Green Bay area -- up from about 800 in 2012.
 
While that sounds like there's far more activity, police say the increase is a direct result of their renewed focus on identifying gangs.

Part of that focus is figuring out where they're coming from.  

While many gang members grew up here, they're finding some of the leaders are actually relocating from larger cities, like Chicago, trying to find a better life. But they get here -- and that changes.

"Unfortunately, this is an awkward social situation, so suddenly they can find themselves being big fish in a little pond. Then they have followings," Kastelic says.

They prey on the vulnerable, enticing them into a gang life to make them feel like they belong.

"Sometimes it's protection from abuse of other groups. Sometimes it's the family they don't have when they come to their homes at the end of the day. Sometimes it's a neighborhood thing. Sometimes it's generational," Kastelic says.

While many people assume most gangs are divided by race, here they are not.

"The term that's used in training and how we deliver messages is 'hood jumping,' where one day they're claiming this and the next day they're claiming that," Allen says.

Lieutenant Allen, head of the gang unit, says people of all ages are involved in gangs but most are in their teens and 20s, but sometimes hard to identify.

"There is a lot more to it. We're not seeing the dressed in head to toe in red or blue.  We're seeing very subtle things that may identify them as being part of or trying to be part of a gang," he says.

Police are being more aggressive and proactive now than ever before to get ahead of the problem.

"We are doing everything we can to stay on top of it, and we are staying on top of it," says Kastelic.

Wednesday on Action 2 News at 10, Target 2 Investigates goes behind-the-scenes with the gang unit. They take us with them on patrol to show you how they're targeting  gangs and the kinds of results their enforcements are already having.

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