Gang Information for Citizens
Gang Information for Citizens
What is a gang?
A street gang is generally defined as a group of three or more individuals who associate regularly, call themselves by a specific name, have group identifiers, and commit crimes together. Gangs are involved in a variety of criminal activities including fighting, graffiti, robbery, weapon offenses, auto theft, battery and drug dealing. The activity is usually committed by a few of the gang members for the monetary benefit of the gang, or an individual member. The criminal activity may be a part of an initiation rite, or a way to show loyalty to the gang. Each gang may commit different levels of crime. Some only commit minor offenses; others are involved in major crimes that included violence.
Who makes up a gang?
Peer group pressure plays an important role in a person's decision to join a gang. Gang members can come from two parent homes as well as broken homes. They can be of any ethnic makeup and from either sex. They can come from any income level or any social background. They may have a friend, a brother or an influential peer who belongs to a gang. Gang-involved youth can range up wards in age from 10 years old and can generally be placed into one of three categories:
Leaders - Usually older members with extensive criminal backgrounds. They direct the activities of the gang and recruit new members. They are commonly surrounded by older, trusted friends who will enforce the rules of the gang and dictate criminal activity to the younger members.
Core members - Usually the most violent members of the gang, with criminal backgrounds. They commit the more serious crimes and are behind the drug dealing of the gang. They intimidate the younger members of the gang to show them what is required in order to display loyalty to the gang.
Fringe/marginal members - This group is usually comprised of the youngest members of the gang, who have minimal or no criminal records. They may have joined the gang, or hang out with the gang because of peer pressure, or because gang members are their friends. They may be involved temporarily or on a limited basis. They are sometimes referred to as "wanna-be" gang members. This term should not be used when describing marginal members as they may see it as a challenge to their egos and commit crime just to prove otherwise.
What do they look like?
Gang members use graffiti, hand signs, tattoos and sometimes clothing or colors to signify their membership in a gang. Each gang has its own unique graffiti, signs and colors. In recent years however, the outward display of gang jackets or hats has become a rarity because police and citizens have become very aware of this type of clothing. Gang involved youth has also realized this clothing draws too much attention to them. It has become fashionable for non-gang youth to wear team jackets and hats which, in the past, had been identifiers for a gang.
With the onset of new anti-gang laws, members are now reluctant to admit their involvement with a gang. Gang graffiti on notebooks, hats, and in bedrooms, as well as tattooing on hands, arms and faces are telltale signs of gang involvement. Members still use a wide variety of hand signs for showing respect and disrespect for another gang.
Is my child in a gang?
Here is a listing of some of the things you can watch for if you suspect your child may be involved with gangs:
Look at their hats. Is there any written gang graffiti on it?
Look for tattoos of stars or pitchforks.
Look for jewelry with gang symbols on them.
Watch for sudden changes in friends, attitude, or clothing. Be aware is now fashionable to walk and talk like gangsters.
Do his or her new friends look and act like gangsters?
Look for graffiti on bedroom walls, notebooks and other personal belongings.
Truancy or poor grades in school.
Frequent negative contact with police.
Listens to "gangster rap" or "Hip Hop" music.
Begins to use gangster slang.
People vs. Folks
In the upper Midwest, including our local area, Milwaukee and Chicago, contemporary street gangs fall under two umbrella groups, "Folks" and "People". These groups are rivals and enemies to one another. They are not gangs themselves, but represent a collection of individual gang factions. They could be compared to groups of sports teams that fall under group headings like the "National League" or the "American League".
The following is a list of some of the active gang factions that have been recently identified in the Milwaukee metro area:
FOLKS: Black Gangster Disciples, Spanish Cobras, Imperial Gangsters, LaRaza, Gangster Disciples, Brothers of the Struggle, as well as others.
PEOPLE: Insane Unknowns, Latin Kings, Vice Lords, Almighty Conservative Vice Lord Nation, as well as others.
Samples of People graffiti
Samples of Folks graffiti
Gangs in Waukesha: History
Gang activity in Waukesha dates back to 1984, when officers began to notice the influx of gang members from Milwaukee at local youth events. In response, Waukesha youth began their own gang to protect what they perceived as their turf. Most of the problems were of a minor nature, such as fights.
The Milwaukee Police Department Gang Unit contacted our Police Department and an exchange of information on gang activity began. Waukesha police detectives were assigned to track and monitor these gang members and their activities as early as 1985. In 1990-91, gang activity began to pick up as more of our youth became involved gang. Several teenagers from Waukesha formed a gang in 1991, and began committing a wide variety of crimes, including residential burglary and auto theft. The Waukesha Police Department and the community took action, the gang was broken up about a year later. The leader was sent to the Ethan Allen school for boys at Wales. Several of the remaining youth formed different gangs, some with ties to Milwaukee and Kenosha.
In 1992-1994, a wide variety of crimes were committed in Waukesha by gang members from our city as well as Milwaukee. Other hard core gang members from Milwaukee came to Waukesha and also formed gangs. Waukesha witnessed a home invasion and armed robbery committed by Asian gang members from Texas, as well as a drive-by shooting. There were gang related burglaries, robberies, drug dealing, and graffiti.
In 1994, the City of Waukesha Police Department created a Gang Intervention Unit comprised of three police officers. This unit was to coordinate all anti-gang activity and resources in the city. Also during the 1990s, officers from our department were in continual communication with local social service agencies, the schools, religious and community leaders, taking a community-wide approach to solving the gang problem. Neighborhood Watch groups were very active in reporting gang activity when it occurred. A private organization began a project called "Graffiti Effacers", which removed graffiti from business and residential locations as it occurred.
Gangs in Waukesha: Now
Due to the anti-gang efforts of the entire community, Waukesha has seen a marked decline in gang activity in recent years. Gang members who were active in the early 1990's are now in jail or have seen the error of their ways and now deny gang ties. They know that in Waukesha, claiming to be in a gang is unacceptable. Anytime a new gang attempts to form in Waukesha, the police, schools and courts are alerted and it is shut down. Gang members have learned that Waukesha has zero tolerance for gang activity. Gang members do not display their colors or signs because they know the community will not tolerate it and will call the police. Schools will not put up with any gang activity in their classrooms and have even banned the wearing of hats in school.
Through the police department's Neighborhood Watch program, the community is kept informed of any current gang activity or concerns. Through Crime Stoppers, the citizens keep the police informed about problem areas. The Crime Prevention Bureau at the Waukesha Police Department has also started an anti-crime show on cable TV and is currently setting up an online web site on the Internet. Officers of the Gang Intervention Unit meet with officials from the schools, on a monthly basis, to keep up with current activity. Meetings are held with other law enforcement agencies to discuss current trends. All of these efforts have kept gang activity in Waukesha under control. We must however, remain vigilant, to ensure that it stays this way. As the police and the community in Waukesha continue to work together, gangs will not become the problem they are in other cities.
What can we do to help?
If you see or learn of suspected gang activity in your neighborhood, call the police. If you wish to remain anonymous, you can call Crime Stoppers. Do not feel that you are bothering the police if you call in concerning suspicious circumstances. That is what the police are for. If you have specific questions regarding gang activity, call the Gang Intervention Unit at the Waukesha Police Department.