Gang unit sets sights on cutting into street violence and homici - ABC21: Your Weather Authority

Gang unit sets sights on cutting into street violence and homicides

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA 21) -

Police commanders all over the country will tell you if you can cut down on the influence of drugs, guns and gangs, you can make a real dent in a city's crime problems.

In a special report, "To Protect and Serve", we profiled a Fort Wayne police department unit with a clear focus to try and knock out violent crimes, especially murders committed by gangs.

It's a Tuesday night, and we hook up with members of the Fort Wayne Gang and Violent Crimes Unit.

We tag along with Officer Mark Deshaies, a veteran of the team.

"We're looking at where our gang houses are, where the hot spot houses are," he said while patrolling. 

The game plan on this shift includes patrols in targeted neighborhoods where drugs are selling and gangs are flexing their muscle.

"As our people move, as our problems move, we move with them," Officer Deshaies said. 

About 15 minutes into our ride, we see exactly what that means.

Reports come across the radio, two people shooting at each other, and that three people were hit at an address on East Pontiac Street.

The gang unit members make the scene in roughly 90 seconds.

Officer Deshaies approaches a woman in a pickup truck.

"I was just there when they started doing the shooting," the woman said. "I left because the guy was like right up to my car."

One of the shooting victims was a grandmother who got taken out on a gurney.

Two juveniles in the same home were also hit.

The injuries, not life threatening, and police believe the victims did nothing wrong, that they weren't even the intended targets.

"These are people that are adapting to the situation and we're trying to change that situation so they don't have to adapt to it. We don't want them to have to teach their children how to get down on the ground for gun violence. We want to stop that gun violence before it happens," said Officer Deshaies.

The shooter eludes capture, at least right after the bullets were flying.

About a half hour later, after tailing a car leaving a suspicious house close to the shooting scene, the team makes a traffic stop in a gas station parking lot.

The car gets searched, along with the three men inside.

It turns out, the car is basically clean, and so are the young men.

Sgt. Gary Hensler, who runs the unit, says this detail is not for the faint of heart.

"I don't know if aggressive is the right word, but determined, what's the old saying, you've got to be able to...when you hear the muskets fire, go towards the muskets. That's what I'm looking for in our guys out here," Sgt. Hensler said.

Because this unit does a lot of traffic stops as part of their normal routine, all of the team members are well versed in the probable cause that constitutes a legal stop.

Stops can lead to arrests that get troublemakers off the streets, but they are also an opportunity to build relationships and trust with the community, maybe producing tips on something more important.

"We might generate intelligence from a person in a legal traffic stop, we might generate goodwill from that person down the road," said Officer Deshaies.

"The detective shows really don't show the investigative side of things too much. It's just run and gun, and it's not...and that's not what we're doing, you know, it's a lot of investigative work," said team member Officer Anthony Shefferly.

Badgering local gangs to limit their negative impacts may be a realistic goal, but seeing their influence go away altogether probably isn't, and that's why the gang unit isn't going away either.

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