Rock County Jail unit gathers gang intelligence
The Rock County Sheriff's Office Gang Intelligence Unit received information about a gang planning to retaliate against another gang at the fair.
Investigators gave deputies packets with pictures of the gang members, their colors and signs. The intelligence turned out to be good.
Deputies removed the gang members from the fairgrounds. A public gang fight at one of the county's signature events was prevented.
The story is an example of how the gang intelligence unit has helped combat gang activity since it formed in 2005, Rock County Jail Capt. Erik Chellevold said.
The unit has a computer database of more than 1,000 gang members and their street names, said Rock County Jail Correctional Sgt. Viengkhone Nouansacksy, who supervises the gang unit.
The database includes photos of gang members, their tattoos, colors, gang signs and other information, Nouansacksy said.
The unit has identified 33 gangs in Rock County. Gang members commit crimes ranging from drug dealing to murder. They also range in size.
Familiar gangs such as the Latin Kings, Gangster Disciples and Bloods are in the area. Other gangs might be smaller and unknown to the public.
The five-member unit includes Nouansacksy and four correctional officers. They have used grant money to receive training on gang trends and investigations. They also give presentations to school officials and others interested in gangs.
The unit gathers intelligence from gang members in jail. Last week, 117 gang members were locked up.
Investigators interview gang members, photograph them, search their cells, track jail graffiti and research their social networking Web sites such as MySpace.
"They freely talk about their gang affiliations," Chellevold said. "A lot of them are very proud."
The information could prevent gang violence or help with criminal investigations, he said.
The intelligence is shared with law enforcement agencies, Nouansacksy said. The unit also has worked with federal authorities, even helping deport illegal immigrants who were gang members.
Janesville police officer Mike Blaser, who helps track gang activity, regularly exchanges information with the county's gang unit.
He might call unit members for information on documented gang members. He also might ask them for help matching a street name with a real name. The information helps identify suspects or witnesses to crimes.
"The jail has their program, and we have our program," Blaser said. "If we cross reference, we end up with twice the documentation.
"By sharing that information, we end up with more clear-cut and better intelligence."