Janesville66.8°

Shooting raises concerns about gang violence

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Mike DuPre'
February 3, 2008
— The Jan. 19 shooting of teen downtown escalated gang violence here beyond anything Janesville has seen before, but police said one shooting is not a trend.

“It is infrequent that we see serious (gang) crimes against persons, and it’s more infrequent to see guns involved. In many communities gun violence is commonplace, but not here,” Deputy Police Chief Dave Moore said.


“Because of the relatively infrequent nature of gun crimes as related to gang activity, the Janesville Police Department can and will assign considerable resources to these types of crimes,” Moore said.


An 18-year-old Janesville man was wounded in the leg on that Saturday night, and police a few days later arrested six people—two adults, four juveniles—on charges related to endangering safety with guns.


Janesville is home to at least seven groups identifying themselves as gangs, including two criminal motorcycle gangs, said officer Chad Pearson, a three-year veteran of the Janesville police street crimes unit.


Police don’t want to name the groups, saying that would give the gangs the credibility they crave.


Some members—who are chiefly teen boys and young men—will commit crimes and scrawl graffiti in an attempt to get their gang name in the public eye, police said.


Asked how many people are in gangs, Sgt. Steve DeWitt, the unit supervisor, said the number is not only hard to estimate but also difficult to define.


“Do you count that youth as a gang member because he watches TV and listens to rap music and emulates gang behavior?” DeWitt said. “Is he a gang member?”


When the term “wannabe” was mentioned, Pearson replied: “A wannabe to me is an associate member. I don’t like the term wannabe.”


Gang members probably number between 100 and 200 in Janesville, the officers said, with most being males between 15 and 25.


The cops have seen members as young as 12 and some “OGs,” original gangsters, in the 45- to 50-year-old range.


But hard-core gangsters are the minority, less than 10 percent, the officers said.


Jason Witt, interim manager of juvenile probation and detention in Rock County, said about 30 percent of the some 240 juvenile probationers in Janesville—or 72 people—are involved or affiliated with gangs.


“We don’t keep records of the numbers of youths involved in gangs, but anecdotally we have seen an increase in the number of youths who are affiliated with gangs in both Janesville and Beloit,” Witt said.


Gang members deal drugs, steal from cars and homes, rob people, fight each other and intimidate non-members, the cops said, but the local gangs don’t have the hierarchy or tradition of long-time gangs in major metropolises.


Gang members here don’t pay up to gangs in other cities, the officers said.


“We have this melting pot,” Pearson said. “They create organizational structure and rules based on what they believe. Some have reached out to Chicago, Milwaukee, Rockford, Madison and the Twin Cities to have satellite members come and teach them rules and organization.”


DeWitt added:


“It’s more of a way of life—who you emulate, how you talk, how you dress, your social interactions. They get it from the media, their friends and relatives.”


Go to story: Perspectives on gang violence in Janesville

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