Janesville22.8°

Grant fights Rock County gang activity

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ANN MARIE AMES
November 30, 2007
— Occasionally shots are fired.

From time to time a fight breaks out between a dozen kids with ball bats.


But for the most part, gang activity in Rock County is less violent than in other communities.


It still carries a hefty price tag.


Rock County landed a $50,000 Project Safe Neighborhood grant to fight gang activity in 2008. The sheriff’s department and Janesville and Beloit police departments will split the cash and pay officers overtime to interrupt gang activity and other violent crimes.


“It’s not to say we don’t have gang activity,” said David Moore, Janesville Police Department deputy chief. “We have gangs some people claim to be involved with. Some folks we know are involved. But we don’t have that structure and turf issues that some communities have.”


Gangs do exist, though, and preventing gang activity is time consuming, said Norm Jacobs, Beloit Police Department deputy chief. The grant pays for the overtime a community can’t afford.


Beloit has paid officers overtime to remind retailers of a special ordinance making it illegal to sell wide-tipped markers or spray paint to minors in the city. The equipment is used in the most common form of local gang activity: graffiti.


That’s not the only time-consuming part of preventing graffiti, Jacobs said.


“Like sitting and watching a wall you think is going to get graffitied … a community can’t afford to pay for that,” Jacobs said.


In 2007, Beloit spent between $8,000 and $12,000 of the same grant money for overtime.


Janesville doesn’t have violent, organized gang activity, so the city can throw money at violent criminal activities. That often addresses budding gang activity, Moore said.


“If we’re addressing the drug houses and addressing disorderly activities in neighborhoods, it tends to address gang issues at its core and keep them from developing,” Moore said.


Janesville got $13,000 of the same grant in 2007, which Moore said was used for:


-- 200 hours of overtime for a drug sweep in April.


-- 117 hours for a drug sweep in May.


-- 50 hours for a search warrant for illegal guns on Cherry Street.


The biggest help to police is attentive parents, Jacobs said.


Parents should be aware of what their kids are doing and know with whom they associate, Jacobs said. Parents should check children’s backpacks, bedrooms or cars for spray paint or wide-tipped markers.


Gang symbols drawn on books or backpacks could be a sign of gang influence, he said.


Gang activity is a potential problem in any community, not just Beloit and Janesville, Jacobs said.


“Parents need to keep their eyes open,” Jacobs said. “I would hate to have a problem that’s right in front of them and not be seen. It might not always look like it does on TV or in the paper. Issues look different in different communities.”


In 2008, the Rock County Sheriff’s Department and Janesville and Beloit police departments will split a $50,000 grant from Project Safe Neighborhood.


The money is for overtime needed to address gang activity and other potentially violent crimes.


Gang activity is rarely violent in Rock County, but dealing with it can be expensive. Here are a few examples:


-- The most common gang activity in Rock County is “tagging” buildings with graffiti. It’s expensive to remove spray paint from concrete, especially since the best prevention is quick removal, said Beloit Police Department Deputy Chief Norm Jacobs.


-- Gang activity costs a community by creating the perception of disorder in the community, Jacobs said.


-- Gang members have unique challenges and need special services when they come into the parole system, said Jason Witt, deputy director of the Rock County Human Services Department, mostly because of the threat of violence to those who leave gangs.


“It’s hard for anyone trying to do the right thing if maybe they have deficits at home,” Witt said. “But they’re not in danger.”



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