FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) --- Keeping tabs on Fort Wayne's gang threat.
We patrolled with a special city police unit devoted to clamping down on street gangs for a firsthand look at the trouble they can cause and the efforts law enforcement expend to try and keep them under control.
Gangs influence local crime in so many ways.
They have their hand in drug trafficking and burglaries, and it doesn't stop there.
We don't know if they belong to a specific gang, but the four thugs who held up a Southside Asian grocery February 3rd, firing shots and roughing up the owners, could technically be charged under Indiana law with criminal gang activity.
Robberies are one thing, but city police say in 2012, about half of Fort Wayne's homicides were gang-related.
Republican 3rd District City Council Member Tom Didier, who is the current president of city council, says on the southeast side, police need to push back.
" It really needs to be focused on, especially with all the murders and things like that, that are happening," Didier said.
When Sgt. Tom Strausborger cruises the streets of Fort Wayne, he's got his eyes peeled for trouble.
Strausborger heads up the FWPD Gang and Violent Crimes Unit.
During a ride along with the team February 10th, a man once tied to the gang culture was tailed on suspicion of illegal activity.
The suspect got nervous and bailed out of his car.
" The way he just took off when he saw me, I did a U-turn on him, and he just scatted and Bobbie saw him too, and then he started zigging and zagging,” said one of the officers who prepared to pull the man over.
The unit caught up with the suspect and questioned him about traces of marijuana found in the car’s front seat, and a set of scales that a dealer might use to measure drugs.
" Like I'm honestly telling you, honestly, I was not driving the car," the man told police while handcuffed in the back of a squad car.
We chose not to use his name for the story.
" So, who was driving the car?" Sgt. Strausborger fired back, as he ordered the suspect to get up out of the police vehicle.
"Man, I'm not lying. Oh, you guys got me up on the news?" he said, as he looked over and saw our camera.
"You guys can search me real good."
" We can search you real good? Okay," Strausborger said.
He's forced to sweat it out for a while, but eventually, the cuffs come off, and he's released.
In a traffic stop an hour later, a different suspect pulled over for a traffic violation is encouraged to tell what he knows about a robbery investigation he’s also linked to, to lessen his own exposure to charges.
" I know it's going in one ear and out the other. I know you're not going to do it,” Strausborger tells the suspect.
He pleads with him to break free of his gang ties.
“ You can get away from them, you can get away from all this."
As the night wears on, Sgt. Strausborger takes us down a street that's a known base for a local gang.
" I don't want to necessarily say that we put fear in them, but you know, as long as they know that we're watching, it's almost like a game of cat and mouse."
While city police are busy cracking down on gangs, organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne are working to steer kids away from gangs.
Structured classes and organized sports, such as basketball, keep kids busy with positive activities.
The club also sponsors a "Passport to Manhood" program for teenaged boys.
18-year old Joshua Niemeyer is one of the graduates.
" I was growing up with negativity from my friends, they used to join gangs and do drugs and all that. I just separated myself from it, basically," Niemeyer said.
"Sometimes kids don't understand what they do today can impact their tomorrow. And we have to try to help them connect those dots," said Joe Jordan, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Back on patrol, on McKinnie Avenue, we see the wrong way to connect the dots.
Strausborger shows us a house and garage scarred with the symbols of gangs that compete for the hearts and minds of close to 400 Fort Wayne young people that the special gang unit tracks.
It's a lifestyle that offers some kids a misguided sense of belonging.
Sadly, it just brings more crime and calamity into the lives of the rest of us.
Police say the term gang has such a negative connotation, that some groups in town have adopted the term clique, figuring that term doesn't carry the same stigma.
But no matter, officers contend these groups still are about intimidation, and about drug dealing and violent crime, with control of money at the root of their existence.
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