Janesville officers visiting gang members in their homes

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Ted Sullivan
Thursday, April 8, 2010
— Janesville police officer Mike Blaser sat on a coffee table and talked with the mom of a 15-year-old Gangster Disciple.

“My biggest concern is these kids that jumped him in the park,” Blaser told her. “How many kids was it?”

“I think it was three,” the mother responded, sitting in a recliner.

“What’s he doing after school?” Blaser asked.

“Usually, he comes home,” she said.

“What about personal issues? You said school has been an issue for him?” Blaser asked.

“Truancy,” she said.

“What can we do for you?” Blaser asked her.

“It would be really cool if we could get him more involved in computer stuff,” she said.

Blaser was visiting the mother and her son as part of an effort to meet with all of the city’s 192 gang members in their homes. Police believe the home visits are a simple yet effective way to combat gang crime.

Home visits fit the department’s mission of finding creative ways to solve crime problems, rather than just react to crimes and make arrests.

The goal is to reduce gang membership and help gang members find positive outlets. Police already have seen fewer gang incidents since home visits began.

Officers have done 60 home visits this week, Blaser said, and they have not been turned away.

“I haven’t had one person shut the door on me,” he said. “I haven’t had one person not invite me in.”

Officers use the visits to help gang members and their families. They also gather intelligence about gangs and document it in a police database.

A Gazette reporter rode along with officers on a home visit Wednesday afternoon.

The officers, wearing street clothes, kept the visits informal.

The 15-year-old boy admitted his gang membership. He’s been in trouble for fighting and using marijuana and has had problems with rival gangs.

He is an outgoing, thin and tall teen who ate Skittles while talking with police. He seemed to answer the officer’s questions honestly.

The mother invited the officers into her home and offered them a glass of water. She seemed genuinely concerned about helping her son.

An episode of “Cold Case” was on TV in the background. Other kids in the family played in the house.

After small talk about Labrador retrievers, the officers began asking the mother and son about gang behavior.

While Blaser talked with the mother, officer Josh Norem chatted with the boy at a dining room table in the kitchen. He asked the teen about gangs, initiations, members, rivals, drug use and school.

“What gangs are you seeing around?” Norem asked.

“There’s a lot of Kings; there’s some Vice Lords,” he responded.

“How you doing in school?” Norem asked.

“I’m getting some good grades, right now,” the teen said.

“Is there anything we can do to help you out?” the officer asked.

“What do you mean?” the boy asked.

The officers told him they could help him mentor younger kids interested in computers and video games. They said they could talk to coaches at his high school about playing football next year.

“We definitely need to get you in the weight room if you’re going to play football,” Norem joked.

When the visit ended, both officers gave the boy and mother their business cards, including cell numbers.

“If you need anything, give me a call,” Norem said.

“Thanks,” the teen said.

Last updated: 1:39 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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