Spike in crime leads Dowagiac to gang task force

Published 2:27 pm Wednesday, May 31, 2006

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
DOWAGIAC - An increase in juvenile crime Dowagiac police began seeing about a year and a half ago convinced Chief Tom Atkinson to organize a task force like the one behind a two-hour public forum on gang awareness Tuesday night at Dowagiac Middle School.
In formulating a “police response,” Atkinson reiterated his May 17 announcement that the city force will be stepping up curfew enforcement. Under age 13, juveniles cannot be out after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m.
Under 17, a curfew is imposed between midnight and 6 a.m.
When school resumes in the fall, truancy will also be addressed more strenuously, Atkinson said.
Featured speaker Lt. Roger Lange of the Berrien County Sheriff's Office for 16 years began his career with the Benton Harbor Police Department.
Lange has been with the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force for five years.
The certified bomb technician and hostage negotiator has been investigating gangs for 19 years and has been president of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association since 1991.
He just returned from a week of lecturing in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Virginia and Washington. He will be speaking in Chicago in August.
Three goals parents and communities should seek to reduce the adverse impact of gangs starts with raising their awareness level.
Lange said the majority of parents has “no idea what is going on in the corrupting and slimy abyss of street gangs. These mothers and fathers do not realize these gangs have a very strong and constant attraction to our children. From so-called ‘youth groups' led by 47-year-old men to ‘rap artists' who are former gang members, to camouflaged socially-conscious, self-help/save the children organizations (Gangsters Disciples restyling itself with the same initials that now stand for Growth and Development), our socially/culturally conscientious, community-involved, fashion-minded, want-to-be-cool kids are targeted by these sneaky, street-wise criminals.”
Second, supervise your children, Lange counsels. “Our kids want, need and expect clear limits on their activities,” even if they don't know it or accept it. “Do the right thing and set them, right along with reasonable consequences for violations and, most importantly, make the call and stick to your decision. Being ‘the nice guy' only makes a mockery of your disciplinary efforts in the eyes of your child. Know who your kids' friends are and what he/she is doing with them.”
Third, get involved with your children, neighborhood and community.
Lange's son was “blasting” rap music one day when the lieutenant walked in. “I just started breaking the CDs,” he said. “My point to him was he needed to learn how to spend his money more wisely because that is not going to be tolerated in this house. We've got to take a hard stand, what they used to call tough love.”
By definition, a gang is a group of people who want to be seen as different from others and want others to perceive them as a distinct group.
Gang membership is not in and of itself illegal unless they resort to criminal activity.
Gangs establish their reputation by the types and severity of crimes they commit. The more heinous the crime, the more “juice” or reputation a gang earns “in the seedy street gang world.
On the East Coast they have a Salvadoran group that is notorious for dismembering people in any community they feel they can get a foothold in and then they take it over. If you cross them, they will do whatever they want. They got like that because local government officials did not recognize the fact that they had a problem. If you have graffiti, you have a problem.”
Lange gave a crash course in reading such graffiti, from six-pointed stars and five-pointed stars where each point stands for such qualities as love, life, wisdom, morality, understanding and knowledge. Gangs “write prayers and bylaws.”
He explained how pitchforks are drawn pointing up (representing) or down (disrespecting) or in signs “thrown” by hand.
Amos Clark had graffiti splashed on the back of his garage.
Besides graffiti, signals of gang presence include widespread vandalism, auto thefts, robberies, muggings and fighting between youths followed by crimes committed with weapons, citizen complaints of thugs causing fear and intimidation within a neighborhood, youths traveling in groups and, most importantly, drug trafficking.
By the same token, he cautioned against leaping to the conclusion of “gang member” based solely on a couple of indicators.