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Cooperation helping keep streets safer

The effort to curb violence here is not a hopeless quest.

There’s good reason to believe that the Fort Wayne police are making a dent in the problem with their new Gang and Violent Crime Unit. The Indiana State Police and the Allen County Sheriff’s Office also have been involved.

But as U.S. Attorney David Capp puts it, “we all have limited resources.”

Capp’s office and the federal law enforcement agencies it works with may have had a less visible presence here than they have in some other parts of the northern 32 counties of Indiana that Capp’s district comprises. But Fort Wayne has the feds’ attention, as a recent conversation we had with Capp and some of his deputies confirmed.

Local police praise the partnership that has been forged with the FBI’s Safe Streets program, The Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Capp, in turn, says he has been impressed with his dealings with Fort Wayne Police Chief Garry Hamilton and thinks the local gangs task force is a good approach.

Fort Wayne’s crime and drug problems may not be as obvious as those of northwest Indiana. There, Capp said, a crackdown on the highly structured Latin Kings organization helped authorities solve 36 homicides.

Gangs like the Latin Kings have clear objectives, initiation proceedings, even written discipline rules, Capp said.

“It may seem ironic, but that structure lends itself” to takedowns by law enforcement. For instance, prosecutors can apply the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law that allows federal authorities to go after those who give the orders as well as those who carry out criminal acts. With Hammond’s Latin Kings, “it was as plain as day who the boss was, the No. 2, the No. 3 … over here – who knows?” Capp said. “They’re working together and the next week they’re shooting each other.”

Another area of concern has gotten less public attention. “There are some major players here in drug trafficking,” Capp said. Major dealers may sometimes supply drugs to Fort Wayne’s on-again, off-again gangs, but they aren’t really brothers in arms.

“They are businessmen,” Capp’s first assistant U.S. attorney, Clifford Johnson, said of Fort Wayne’s major dealers. “They don’t want police attention.” With local gangs, he said, “It can be about disrespect, territory – a lot of violent street crime that’s not connected to making money.”

Fort Wayne is a center for this kind of crime because it’s the biggest city in northern Indiana and it’s on the I-69 corridor, a route between Detroit and Indianapolis and points beyond.

“It’s the Crossroads of America,” Johnson said with a shrug. “Guns, dope, sex trafficking – people move and products move” on routes similar to those used for legitimate commerce.

The potentially dangerous type that Capp says worries him the most these days is neither the gang-banger nor the drug runner but the “home-grown violent extremists who are operating alone, perhaps self-radicalized through the Internet.” He is part of a statewide task force that tries to detect and head off that kind of trouble. Like the local gang and violence unit, Capp encourages citizens to contact his office if they have concerns.

Making our community safer requires vigilance, help from citizens, and trust and cooperation at all levels of law enforcement. On the TV shows, local police and federal authorities almost always clash. It’s good to know it isn’t that way in real life here.