Nearly three years after a Dane County task force called for a coordinated effort to combat growing gang activity and six weeks after a gang-related homicide, the Madison Police Department will launch an expanded gang unit that has been in the works since last year.
But still lacking is a countywide gang prevention coordinator that Chief Noble Wray said is critical to addressing gang activity, including a rise in Latino gangs, which police say were involved in the April 28 shooting death of a 19-year-old Madison man.
"Our emphasis should be on how do we stop the homicide, not what do we do after the homicide," said Wray, who vowed to renew the call for a countywide gang prevention coordinator when the department introduces its new Crime Prevention Gang Unit on June 10 to representatives of community agencies and others working on issues involving gangs and youth violence.
But both county and city officials say it's not their sole responsibility to create such a position.
Meanwhile, in Madison, the police department will triple the size of its gang unit, from two members to six, starting June 14. The expansion will put one gang-prevention officer in each of its five districts. Sgt. Amy Schwartz, currently with the department's Criminal Intelligence Section, also will be part of the unit.
The gang officers will work closely with other officers in their districts and with police serving as educational resource officers in the city's high schools, as well as with community members, to keep youths from getting involved in gangs, Wray said.
Joel Plant, an aide to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, said the new crime prevention gang unit already is drawing attention from other U.S. law enforcement agencies for its combined focus and its placement of gang officers in districts throughout the city.
Lt. Brian Ackeret of the North District, where the April homicide took place, said the new gang unit "will be a welcome additional resource that's definitely needed, and the timing is perfect."
In the wake of the death of Antonio Perez, the victim in the April shooting whom police identified as a member of the C14 gang, police said they feared retaliation. So far, that hasn't happened.
Police have said most of the group involved in the shooting belongs to the South Side Carnales, though court records also suggest some or all were members of MS-13.
On Friday, police on horses patrolled Warner Park, where last week a 22-year-old man was stabbed after a fight on the basketball court and two days later shots were fired. Police were investigating whether those incidents, as well as two after-school disturbances last week involving students at Metro Transit's North Transfer Point, were gang-related.
But Wray and others say a countywide coordinator is also essential to keeping efforts by police, schools, social services agencies and community organizations to combat gang issues on track.
40 gangs in Madison
Police estimate there are now more than 1,100 confirmed gang members in Madison and about 40 gangs, about 12 of which are the main Latino gangs.
The Dane County Enhanced Youth Gang Prevention Task Force recommended in August 2007 that a countywide gang coordinator's position be considered. That group's co-chairman, former Madison police Capt. Luis Yudice, who's also security coordinator for the Madison School District, first called for a "comprehensive strategy so we can all work in unison" to address gang violence in September 2005.
Since then, Yudice said, staff in Madison schools are recognizing more issues involving gangs among students, which he attributes in part to greater awareness and training.
"We have gang-involved kids in probably most of our high schools and middle schools and some of our elementary schools," he said. Staff do a good job of keeping gang activity out of the schools, he said, and work closely with students, families, police and social workers in an effort to keep students out of gangs.
Locally, the gang issue is not unique to Madison schools. "We're seeing more gang activity in the suburban school districts," Yudice said, as well as the emergence of hate groups targeting blacks and Latinos in Madison, Deerfield, Cottage Grove and DeForest.
Ivan Mateo-Lozenzo, a 21-year-old illegal immigrant from Veracruz, Mexico, who police say killed Perez, was enrolled as a junior at Middleton High School, where officials knew him as Arain Gutierrez, 18, and believed he had previously attended Madison's West High School.
Madison School District officials, citing federal privacy laws and district policy, have refused to say whether Mateo-Lozenzo, who is still at large, had been enrolled there. But they said they shared information with police after the homicide.
Four others charged had attended schools in Madison or Verona.
Yudice said he had hoped a county gang coordinator would be created "to keep this issue on the front burner" and avoid duplication of services among the many entities working to address the gang issue.
Had such a position been in place, Yudice said, he believes some of the increase in the county's gang activity might have been prevented.
County Human Services Director Lynn Green said in an e-mail that the task force was a joint effort by the city and county, and its recommendation doesn't indicate that the county "should be the entity to consider creating this position."
The county already spends over $16.7 million on gang prevention, intervention and enforcement efforts, and has committed the time of Delinquency Services Manager Stephen Blue "to the daily duties of the coordinator role," Green said.
Green said in an e-mail that after the shooting, Falk named Frank Rodriguez as a "program leader" with the neighborhood program to work with Latino youth.
Plant said the city agrees that a countywide coordinator is vital to the efforts to combat gang activity.
"I think that the mayor would welcome a conversation with (County Executive Kathleen Falk) about this position and how it might be funded," Plant said. "At this point, that conversation hasn't happened."
State Journal reporter Gena Kittner contributed to this story.
Signs of gang influence or involvement
Sudden change in friends
Change in style of clothing or an interest in one particular color, number, or logo
Less interest in spending time with family and a desire for an increased level of privacy
Disrespect for authority, family, and/or school
Decline in grades and poor school attendance
Unexplained money or possessions
Appearance of graffiti on personal items
Use of nicknames and/or tattoos
Unusual pen marks, bruises, or burns on arms, hands, or body
Using unknown vocabulary, gang slang, speaking in fractured sentences, excessive swearing
Using hand signals
Staying out later than usual/all night
Increased conflict with other juveniles or fear of traveling to certain neighborhoods
Listens to gangster-rap music (which promotes violence, drug sales, and gang activity)
Associates with gang members
Negative contacts with law enforcement, school officials, and other adults
Source: Dane County Youth Prevention Task Force