The Madison Police Department is investigating recent patterns in weapon violations and shootings that could be classified as gang-related activity.
This past weekend there were two separate incidents involving gun violence, but the MPD has not determined if the exact cause was gang violence, Joel DeSpain, MPD spokesperson, said.
Three suspects were taken into custody on unrelated charges during the investigation, but MPD believes the shots fired on Russett Road and at West Towne Mall last weekend were gang-related, DeSpain said.
“We’ve had a lot more shots lately and a lot more gun violence, but that’s not to say that there hasn’t been gun violence associated with gangs in the past, as well,” DeSpain said. “We have had numerous incidents in the last few months of shots being fired and some of that is gang-related.”
Gang-related incidents of violence, like shootings, are “nothing new,” as gangs have been an issue since DeSpain started working as a journalist in the mid-’80s, he said.
Currently, there are 40 known gangs in Madison, DeSpain said. Within those gangs are at least 3,000 gang members, he said.
These gangs are primarily composed of men between the ages of 14 and 25. DeSpain, a former youth coach, said many young people join gangs because they feel disenfranchised within the community.
MPD has been trying to educate and raise awareness about gangs for many years, DeSpain said. There are numerous police officers and units, as well as people in the community, who work hard to reach out to young people to prevent them from joining and getting out of gangs, DeSpain said.
Programs that offer help include the Gang Task Force, whose aim is to educate young people to prevent them from joining gangs, DeSpain said.
The MPD Gang Task Force is comprised of five officers, Sergeant Brian Chaney, supervisor of the Gang Task Force, said. Each officer is assigned to a police district and the officers work to reach out to local schools and communities to talk to them about gangs and gang prevention, he said.
“A good deal of time is spent not only trying to educate the public about gangs, but also trying to get to know some vulnerable youth and establishing some rapport with some who seem to be heading in that direction,” Chaney said. “We then work to try to steer them out of that component.”
The MPD Gang Task Force is a reaction unit, so when a crime, like a shooting, occurs with suspected links to gang activity, the unit gets involved in the investigation, Chaney said.
The general message that people should understand is that they are not trying to invoke fear when they tell people there are gangs in Madison, Chaney said. Gangs in Madison have been around for about 30 years, if not longer, he said.
“The main goal is that people are aware that we have these gangs and look for some warning signs of kids who may be involved in gangs, and that there are a lot of resources here that can help,” Chaney said.