- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - Anderson Police Department Sgt. William Casey presses the button on the remote control to start a video of a young man he identifies as his son demonstrating special handshakes used by members of the Black Gangster Disciples street gang.

He explains how his son, now a student at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, became involved in the gang life, engaging in illegal activity for a short while.

“This one here learned his lesson right after this video,” Casey told the 30 people attending an informational meeting on gangs in April at Westside Community Church of God in Christ. “I told them to take him to jail.”

Gangs are primarily populated with juveniles and young adults, though there may be some older leaders, Casey said. Many young people involved in gang-related activity do so with the indirect and sometimes even direct approval of their parents, he added.

“We’ve got some parents turning their heads because junior is paying bills,” he said.

Some are even so brazen that they will engage in their illegal gang-related activities in view of those they know to be police officers, Casey said.

“I know what y’all do - just don’t do it around me,” he said.

Although county law enforcement officials and other city and community leaders hesitate to identify gang membership and activity as a serious problem, some recent events point to the likelihood of a greater level of gang activity in the area than they would like to acknowledge.

For instance, the visibility of local gangs was raised in December when Anderson police arrested 10 participants in a gang-related altercation that took place at the Anderson-Muncie Central basketball game. The friction between Anderson-based Certified Money Getters and Muncie-based Young Killers escalated in April, when Anderson police were able to diffuse a conflict expected to take place between the rival gangs.

Local gang statistics are hard to come by. Although they may have roots in gang activity, many incidents simply are reported as other crimes, such as burglaries, drug dealing and possession or arson.

According to the FBI’s Safe Streets Gang Task Force in 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 1.4 million gangs nationwide active in 33,000 gang units. The Great Lakes region, including Indiana, is considered second only to the West Coast in terms of gang presence, according to the report.

Nationally, gangs are responsible for 48 percent to 90 percent of crime, depending on jurisdiction, the task force reported.

A great deal of the illegal activity seen around Anderson can be traced to gangs, Casey said.

“This is all the stuff that happens in Anderson - not Chicago, not Detroit - right here in Anderson,” Casey said. “I drive around town and tell people, and they say, ‘Man, I didn’t know about that.’ They don’t see it because it’s out back by the alley.”

Contrary to public perception and portrayals in media, gang activity is not limited to minority communities, though individual gangs may be organized along racial or cultural lines, Casey said. As a case in point, he tells the story of a local white Tea Party Republican operative whose son was stealing guns.

“These are white kids right here, emulating Black Gangster Disciples,” he said.

Gang members, Casey said, are motivated by several factors, including a need for protection from other gang members or bullies, excitement or a sense of belonging. But as indicated by names like Certified Money Getters, making money probably is the No. 1 motivator, he said.

“Everybody wants money the quick and dangerous way,” he said. Some gang organizations like the white Saxon Knights are so sophisticated, Casey said, they have 401(k) plans for their members.

Anderson Police Chief Larry Crenshaw characterizes the types of neighborhood gangs found as “clubs.”

“I think the general public thinks of Hollywood types of gangs,” he said. “The Midwest has a different presence than what the perception of gangs may be on the West Coast. They’ll do some mischief. Are they out murdering people, raping people? Not in Anderson. It’s not reached that severe level yet.”

Though these national criminal gangs on occasion make their way to Madison County, their presence is rare and intermittent, Crenshaw added.

“We do not have that connection from the national gang affiliations,” he said. “I think every community has a small amount of neighborhood gang association and affiliation. To say that it’s a nationally funded enterprise gang, we don’t find that here.”

Many residents associate “tagging” or graffiti with gangs, but many times, it’s not, Crenshaw said.

“You will see through the language they do a lot of copycat tagging,” he said.

Anderson police are keeping pretty good tabs on gang activity and are able to prevent violence, Crenshaw said. Directive patrols keep an eye on hot spots like school events and parks.

“We’re trying to get a little more surveillance,” he said.

For instance, APD patrolmen were already at the Anderson-Muncie Central game in December, and the event could have turned out worse than it did, he said.

“When they were inside the gym, they saw only half the story,” he said.

Police, however, can’t solve the gang problem entirely, Crenshaw said.

“Most of the root of this is the family unit or the lack thereof,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to infiltrate the family unit somehow.”

Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger said the biggest mistake any law enforcement official can make is to assume there is no gang activity in his or her jurisdiction.

“I won’t say there are no gangs out in the county because I think there are probably some loosely organized groups we would define as gangs,” he said. “No matter where you are, if you have gangs in an urban area, it does spill out into the county.”

Lifelong Anderson resident Tammy Sloss was one of the organizers of Casey’s informational presentation to the community on gangs. Although her son and daughter are adults who are unlikely to be recruited, Sloss said she felt she had a stake in knowing something about the issue.

“When we’re gone, our houses can be broken into, or there can be a drive-by that can indirectly affect us,” she said.

Sloss said she found Casey’s presentation enlightening in ways she didn’t expect.

“He exposed us to the fact that it’s everywhere and every race,” she said. “I guess I had already known that, but it was good to hear it again. The news always captures what our black kids are doing, but it was interesting to see it was also the kids who well-to-do and come from two-parent homes.”

Sloss said she also thought it was interesting to see how social media, such as YouTube is used to recruit and glorify gang members.

The take-away, she said, is that teens and young adults need more constructive, age-appropriate activities in which to engage locally.

“When they don’t have anything to do, their minds aren’t busy, and they get into trouble,” she said.

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Source: The (Anderson) Herald-Bulletin, http://bit.ly/1Jfqm9N

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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