An increase in gang related activity throughout Madison over the past few years has captured the attention of local law enforcement.

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 suspected gang members and associates are believed to be laying claim to not only Madison, but the overall region as well, Madison City Gang Unit Sergeant Brian Chaney said.

Unaddressed trauma, particularly childhood trauma, is often directly related to gang involvement, Chaney said. Other factors include socio-economic issues or lack of parental guidance, he said.

“Well-established gang members prey on the vulnerable,” Chaney said. “We are seeing recruiting in the neighborhoods as well as schools. The biggest thing [the department] can stress is to know your kids and who they’re hanging out with.”

Not all active gang members downtown are local, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said, with some coming from outside of Madison to prey on college students.

Typically anywhere a teenager or young adult would feel comfortable is a place for gangs or gang members to hang out, Chaney said.

“If you look at recent violent crimes in Madison, we have been able to link them somehow to either an associate, or somebody who is directly involved in gang activities,” Chaney said. “Even though we can trace a crime back to a gang member does not mean the crime was committed for the gang.”

There is also a major connection between burglaries in Madison and gangs, Chaney said, and a great percentage of weapon offenses can be linked back to gangs as well.

However, there is no direct correlation between downtown shootings and gangs, Verveer said.

About a month ago there was a series of shootings around Madison that were mostly gang related, Verveer said, but the only district the Madison Police Department did not find gang involvement was the Central District, which covers downtown Madison.

An analysis of data reveals gangs are involved in more shootings than MPD saw a few years ago, an issue the MPD gang unit is currently working to address in the community, Chaney said.

The most serious aspect of the gang issue seems to be the lack of information in the community. Chaney said fear typically arises when any gang-related topic is brought up publicly, but people need to realize that as the city grows and economic disparity continues, those problems will become more prevalent.

Chaney’s unit primarily focuses on gang prevention. They give advice on how to avoid entering into gang activity, counsel gang members on improving their lives and provide mediation in the community, Chaney said.

“It’s beneficial to be aware that gangs are out there and they exist,” Chaney said. “No longer turn a blind eye, be cognitive that we are a larger city and we have large city problems. We are not considering it out of control. We are at the cusp of just getting our hands around the issue and waking up to the reality that we do have gangs here in Madison.”