Madison officer says gang violence ‘happening in our front yards’

A local leader said there’s a need for alternatives to keep Madison area teens out of gangs.

Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, has seen the gang violence that the Madison area has experienced in recent months. He also sees the need for the community to provide teens with an alternative to gangs.

“We have some challenges here in Madison,” Johnson said.

He believes that programs like the Boys and Girls Club provide the support teens need and a positive activity where they can focus their energy. What he would like to see is for more opportunities to exist in the community to provide teens with positive after-school activities and support.

“In the city of Louisville, Kentucky, the mayor there said they are going to provide 2,500 paid internships for kids,” Johnson said. “Why can’t we do that here in Madison, Wisconsin?”

Multiple weapon violations attributed to gang activity in Madison and surrounding communities have been increasing in recent months. On Saturday, shots were fired outside West Towne Mall.

“Roughly we have about 30 or 40 known operating gangs here in the area, around 3,000 associates and or members in the area,” said Sgt. Brian Chaney, with the Madison Police Department gang unit. “I think now we’re becoming a little bit more aware of it, because it is happening in our front yards, it is happening in our mall, where some of these confrontations involving handguns are actually happening more out in the open and in the general public.”

While area police departments work to curb the violence and arrest those responsible, Johnson wants to see resources targeted to programs to keep teens out of gangs in the first place.

“You’re either going to spend it on the front end or you’re going to spend it on the back end,” Johnson said. 

He said spending money on programs to provide after-school activities and support for teens would prevent the necessity to spend those dollars on enforcement and incarceration.

“Why can’t we spend those resources on the front end?” Johnson said. “But every time I look around, we’re cutting resources out from our schools. Nonprofits are struggling to raise money for our babies. Our kids are the best investment we can make in our community, and we have to do better.”

He also plans to ask the city of Madison to consider a gun-buy-back program to get weapons off the streets similar to one conducted in 1994.

“They took almost 3,000 guns off the street in two days,” Johnson said. “One of the things I’m going to recommend to the police chief is that we do the same thing in 2015.”