Police, schools join hands to slow the spread of gang activity in Janesville
Or maybe it’s a combination of both.
The Jan. 19 shooting in the Janesville YMCA parking lot, which involved gang members on one side of the confrontation, was a wake-up call for police.
That incident prompted the formation of a three-member unit that concentrates on gangs, said the department’s Sgt. Brian Donohoue.
Those officers have been attending gang seminars and compiling files on local gang members and “associates.”
They have been keeping fellow officers informed about gang issues, including the recent spate of gang graffiti.
They have visited families of younger gang members, hoping to track them into more positive activities.
The problem often is that the young feel like outsiders, Donohoue said.
“They just don’t belong,” he said. “They need some support, and they get that among the gang members, but that’s not the right kind of support,”
Police also have been teaching Janesville public school staff how to identify gang signs, graffiti and other indicators that a student may be involved with a gang.
School officials, in return, supply information that expands the police gang intelligence files.
The result of the information sharing with schools and the new police focus may well be the reason for the statistical spike, Donohue said.
So far, the Parker High School and Rock River Charter School staffs have received the training along with all the secondary principals, said Karen Schulte, who heads up the district’s school safety effort.
Calls to schools seeking comment were referred to Schulte.
Donohoue said police hope to expand their school effort when school resumes in September.
Schulte said the district does not track students by gang affiliation, but she’s confident no school has a severe gang problem.
But something is going on, to judge by police and news reports, Schulte said.
Gang members probably number between 100 and 200 in Janesville, most being males between 15 and 25, police told The Janesville Gazette earlier this year. Some are as young as 12.
Police reports on gang incidents in the schools are mostly about graffiti and fights.
Fights seem to arise from insults or perceived insults between rival gang members. Gang members apparently feel honor-bound to fight when confronted by certain hand signs or phrases.
Organized drug dealing does not appear to be in the picture, and none of the gang violence in schools reported through April 30 involved weapons.
Schulte noted that no gang has come to a school to start a fight with a rival gang, which she said would signal something more serious.
“If the police department came to me and said, ‘You have a gang issue at a particular school,’ then we would sit down and we would work on that together,” Schulte said.
“The police department is not saying that at all. … I take my cue on this particular subject from our Janesville Police Department, and I rely on them for direction,” Schulte said.
Police are trying to nip the surge in gang activity in the bud, Donohoue said.
“If we can identify these gang members and their associates, we want them to know we know who they are and we’re not going away and making it kind of uncomfortable for them,” Donohoue said.
And police are aggressively pursuing gang graffiti artists, or “taggers.” They even got Janesville Area CrimeStoppers to offer rewards for information leading to graffiti arrests.
Until now, the CrimeStoppers Quick 50 program, which offers students cash for crime tips, has focused on more serious crimes, such as weapons or drugs in school, Donohoue said.
But posters went up last month offering $50 for tips on graffiti, which has led to arrests, Donohoue said.
Police are also pushing to get graffiti removed or covered quickly. The crime itself may seem minor, but graffiti acts like a magnet for more of the same.
Gangs mark their territories with graffiti, Donohoue said, and rival gangs may counter one gang’s artwork with some of their own that disrespects the original.
Teachers are being told to be on the lookout for such art in students’ notebooks, because it’s common for gang taggers to practice.
Donohoue said they take great pride in their artwork: “Sometimes when we’ve made multiple arrests they’ve said, ‘No, that’s not mine. That’s too sloppy’ or ‘Yeah, that’s mine.’”
“It’s absolutely good art work,” Donohoue said. “It’s too bad they don’t use it for other things.”
Gang stereotypes don’t always hold up.
While some local gang members are Hispanic or black or of Asian heritage, many are white, Janesville police say.
Gang conflicts in local schools this year included people of different ethnicities fighting each other. But their conflicts for the most part seemed to be over their identities as members of gangs and not as members of one ethnic group or anther.
According to the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at University of Colorado:
-- Most gangs are home grown rather than initiated by outsiders, such as gang members who have moved from other cities.
-- Gangs tend to comprise young people, mainly male, with similar ethnic and racial backgrounds.
-- Ethnic conflict is often associated with the emergence of gangs in communities, but most gang conflict takes place between gangs of the same ethnicity rather than between gangs of different ethnicities.
-- Drug use and drug selling are common activities among many, but not all, gangs. The relationship between gangs and drug selling is extremely variable.
-- Graffiti is often important in establishing gang identity. It also often acts as a symbolic form of gang conflict.
-- Violence within a gang is more common than violence between gangs or violence directed outside the gang.
-- When youth (both males and females) are active in a gang, they have higher rates of violent and delinquent behavior than when they are not active in a gang.
-- Gang life is very violent compared to life for those who do not belong to gangs; however, considerable variability exists in levels of violence within and between gangs.
-- Gang members as individuals often have conventional values and concerns.
RECENT GANG INCIDENTS
Following are description of some recent incidents at or near Janesville middle or high schools that Janesville police believe were gang-related. Police have reported no gang incidents at Marshall Middle or Craig High schools through April 30 this year. The following does not include incidents reported in other parts of the city.
Franklin Middle School
-- Oct. 3, 2007—A 14-year-old girl in a program for emotionally disturbed students threatened her teacher, saying: “I will shoot you. That is not a threat. That’s a promise.” Similar words were found in the girl’s notebook, which contained numerous writings about gangs, drugs and sex. She was referred to juvenile authorities on a charge of disorderly conduct. She was taken to the county health care center for an evaluation and then to the Juvenile Detention Center.
-- Dec. 10, 2007—A 12-year-old student got into a fistfight with a 13-year-old student. The 12-year-old said he also had been punched by the 13-year-old and some other students the previous week in the boys locker room. The 12-year-old’s assignment notebook had numerous Latin King graffiti, but the boy denied being in a gang. He said the 13-year-old was a Gangster Disciple. The 12-year-old was referred to juvenile authorities on a charge of disorderly conduct/gang crime. The 13-year old admitted being a Gangster Disciple and said the other student was a Latin King and that the fight was over gang affiliation. He also was referred on a charge of disorderly conduct.
According to the officer’s report, the 13-year-old explained that the other boy had said “Kings forever,” a phrase that is considered a challenge that required him to fight.
-- Dec. 14, 2007—A fistfight on school grounds after school, involving a 13-year-old Gangster Disciple and a 14-year-old member of the Bloods. Both were referred to juvenile authorities on charges of disorderly conduct.
-- Dec. 21, 2007—A 13-year-old student was found with shotgun and .22-caliber ammunition and a white powdery substance in his backpack. He said another student has asked him for the ammo and that he did not intend to use it at school. He said the powder was crushed painkillers that he intended to sell but forgot about. He was referred to juvenile authorities on a charge of possession with intent to deliver a prescription drug. The other student had received two shotgun shells but found they didn’t fit his gun. Officials were concerned because the second student had been involved in the fight on Dec. 14.
-- March 14, 2008—A 16-year-old Parker High School student identified as a Latin King was accused of pushing and punching an 11-year-old student in front of school. The 16-year-old apparently accused the 11-year-old of harassing the 16-year-old’s younger brother. The 11-year-old’s mother said it was a case of mistaken identity. The younger boy was afraid of being attacked for being a “snitch,” but the mother contacted police. Both boys as well as the 16-year-old’s younger brother all were referred to juvenile authorities on charges of disorderly conduct.
-- April 3, 2008—Two girls, ages 12 and 13, wore the same coat at different times. The coat had Latin-King-related markings and colors. Police believe one of the girls has been dating a gang member. Gang-related clothing is not allowed in schools.
-- April 11, 2008—The 14-year-old from the Dec. 21, 2007, incident was spouting obscenities and pointing his finger at the school as if he was going to shoot at it, after he and others were told to leave the grounds after school. He was referred on a charge of disorderly conduct. School staff said the group of students was known to be affiliated with Latin Kings.
-- April 22, 2008—Two 15-year-old Parker students, believed to be associated with Latin Kings, were told to leave Franklin grounds shortly before 4 p.m. They wore gang colors and made gang hand signs. An officer told the boys they were no longer welcome at Franklin because of their gang affiliation.
Edison Middle School
-- Dec. 20, 2007—A 12-year-old student and a 13-year-old student scuffled in the lunchroom after insults were exchanged. The incident apparently started when a third student, a 13-year-old, insulted the Gangster Disciples’ colors. The third student apparently was a Bloods member. The third student previously had been disciplined by school authorities for stating and writing his gang affiliation. The 12-year-old and the third student were referred to juvenile authorities on disorderly conduct charges.
-- April 14 and 16, 2008—A 13-year-old student reportedly was pushed and punched by a seventh-grader believed to be a member of Latin Kings on two occasions after school. The victim said other students had videotaped the assaults with their cell phones.
In the first fight, the victim said two girls were supposed to be fighting after school, and some boys apparently were also going to fight, and the victim told the boys that he would try to stop them from hitting the girls. Apparently, this was taken as a threat by the boy who later assaulted the victim.
The case remains under investigation.
Parker High School
-- Feb. 26, 2007—Four or five students, ages 16 and 17, were expelled after a fight in a hallway. Teachers trying to break up the fight were largely ignored, and some received inadvertent blows from the fighters. The fight lasted less than one minute. The conflict started earlier in the day when one student said another was “mean-mugging,” or staring angrily, at him. The two students appear to have gang affiliations, one with Latin Kings and one with the Bloods, but police initially were uncertain if the incident was gang-related.
-- March 14, 2008—Gang graffiti found on sidewalk known as “the path,” which leads from Parker to Waveland Road. This apparently was part of a rash of Latin King graffiti incidents in that part of the city.