Target 2: Ride-along with the Gang Identification Unit - WBAY

Target 2 Investigates: Ride-along with the Gang Identification Unit

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Target 2 Investigates takes you inside gang life in Northeast Wisconsin. For the first time, Brown County law enforcement agencies are acknowledging there is a gang problem here, responsible for hundreds of fights, disturbances and weapons calls.

Police not only recognize it's an immediate concern, they're taking control and teaming up with state and federal authorities to tackle the problem.

The Green Bay Police Department's Gang Identification Unit has identified more than 1,000 people suspected of or confirmed as being affiliated with one of many gangs in Northeast Wisconsin.

The unit tells Target 2 it's aggressively pressuring these gangs, trying to get rid of all the crimes that go with them.

On a Friday night, just before midnight, a police officer takes us along on what's supposed to be a routine night of patrol for the Gang Identification Unit. Within minutes, action.

"What we have right now is actually a gang member that we want for narcotics charges. Dave actually thinks he just spotted him in a car," said Mike, who for security reasons asked us not to use his last name.

The gang unit moved in, but by the time they reached his location he was gone.

Mike put out a city-wide alert to other officers, and the man was later apprehended.

"We know a lot of the vehicles. We know a lot of the faces, plates and phone numbers and stuff."

Mike is part of the 15-person gang unit, focused on not only identifying and locating gang members but eliminating their illegal activity.

"One of the last parties we just broke up, a lot of the people there, they were whispering, 'Oh, those are those gang cops' or 'They were here or there' or 'They were at our school,' so I think it is getting out there and it is making a difference."

Most people associate gangs with murders and shootings, but here, Mike says, they see mostly fights, burglaries and weapons calls often involving knives and guns -- some of them fake.

Patrols like these are designed to keep those crimes from escalating.

And already the pressure is too much.

"Actually, someone we just talked to within the community was able to tell us that a couple of the people we have been targeting just decided to get out or move away for a little while because the heat's just too much for them."

The gangs Mike sees here are scattered in pockets across the area.

He shows us some of their graffiti. "Really, down here in this area, you roll every alley and pretty much you'll see stuff like this."

It's easy to spot where they've been.

"So we've got the 5, the crown, and the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation with the pitchfork going down, so that right there we know is straight gang-related."

While graffiti may seem harmless vandalism, police want it cleaned up right away -- not only to show gangs they're on to them  but to make neighbors feel safe. As soon as it's spotted, the city covers it up.

Those efforts have pushed much of the graffiti to secluded areas, like vacant properties and alleys.

"We know what a lot of the graffiti says or what it means. We can do intelligence reports: Where, on this day, at this time, this was written," Mike says.

Officers estimate gangs have caused at least $100,000 in property damage from graffiti or smashed windows in the last two years in the greater Green Bay area.

"Absolutely there is a gang problem, but it's our own gang problem. It's not a Chicago gang problem, it's not a Milwaukee gang problem, but it's a Green Bay gang problem."

These gangs, Mike says, operate differently than in larger cities. They cross races and genders, drawing in mostly teens and 20-somethings.

While police watch for certain symbols, signs and colors, these officers see a change from the gang stereotype.

Members don't all have tattoos. Some drive what most would consider an ordinary looking car. And some dress differently, wearing polo shirts.

They're drawn into this life often by gang members from larger cities who moved here to get away from that life but instead become new leaders.

"For one person, it's that family mentality. For another person, it's their reputation. For another person, it's the fear factor. For another person, it's for various access to guns and drugs and sex. It goes all over the place," Mike says.

While gang members make up a very small percentage of the population, mike sees it affecting an entire community.

"I don't want the gangster lifestyle-mentality affecting my family or anyone else's family who's here just trying to live a good life and do the right thing."

Much of the work the gang unit is doing requires help from you.

We investigate how police are working with schools and city leaders to root out gangs and what you can do to keep your family and your neighborhood safe, Thursday on Action 2 News at 5.

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