Janesville police use home visits to fight gang problem

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Ted Sullivan
Sunday, April 4, 2010
— When Janesville police officer Mike Blaser fights gang crime, he often visits gang members and their families at home.

He simply walks up to the door, knocks and asks if he can come in. He talks with gang members about life, school and beefs with rivals.

Blaser recently visited one gang member several times at home, became friendly with his family and often approached him on the street. The kid had been ticketed or arrested several times. He was on a bad path.

Blaser educated the boy about positive ways to live, and the former gang member now is a teacher’s aid at a local school. Teachers rave about him, and he plans to attend college.

In the ongoing fight against gang violence, home visits are a simple yet effective way to curb the problem. Home visits fit the police department’s new mission of creative problem solving, rather than just responding to crimes and making arrests.

This week, while kids are on spring break, Janesville police have an ambitious plan: They want to visit the homes of all 192 documented gang members in the city.

The department received a $13,500 grant to fight gang activity, and the money will pay for overtime so 12 officers can knock on every gang member’s door.

Gang-related crime often involves graffiti and battery or drugs and damage to property. A shooting also has happened. Gang members live throughout the city.

Janesville doesn’t have a gang problem, but officers don’t want to ignore the issue.

“We’re trying to reduce the impact street gang crime has on the city and our schools,” Sgt. Jim Holford said. “We find the best way to do that is to educate the public.”

The goal is to reduce gang membership and victims of gang violence, Chief Dave Moore said. Police have already seen fewer gang incidents since home visits began.

During home visits, conversations are informal and friendly. Officers listen to gang members and educate parents.

They offer help to families and gang members, anything from connecting them to a social worker or finding the kid a baseball team, Holford said. School officers, volunteers and youth organizations also are key.

Officers also use the visits to gather intelligence about gangs. Information about gang members, nicknames and colors is documented in a police database, Holford said. Police have documented six gangs in the city.

Officers will continue investigating gang crimes and make arrests, but they hope home visits will stop gang membership at the recruiting level, he said. Officers want to approach kids before they start getting arrested and point them in a positive direction.

Officers hope to reach every gang member during spring break, Holford said. If not, they will continue visiting homes until they are finished.

Police know they can’t solve the gang problem right away, he said. However, the proactive approach could have a long-term impact.

Last updated: 1:41 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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