Sgt. Amy Schwartz, who heads the Madison Police Department's anti-gang unit, is certain the unit has prevented homicides from happening.
After Antonio Perez was killed in a gang shooting in April 2010, the police paid visits to the homes of known gang members and their parents, urging restraint. And in August that year, they worked with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport known violent offenders who belonged to gangs. They also pay visits to gang members before school starts, she says.
"Did we prevent homicides from happening? Absolutely," Schwartz says. "But can I say for sure? No. A lot of it is anecdotal.
"We really struggle with that," she adds. "We think we're making an impact, but it's very hard to measure statistically."
The number of crimes committed by gang members is also hard to pin down, she says, because the department is conservative about whom it identifies as belonging to a gang. Police have identified 1,198 gang members in Madison, but believe 2,500 more are potential gang members.
Schwartz thinks that statistics about gang involvement in crime here are surprisingly low. In the first half of this year, three of the 26 adults arrested for robbery were gang members; 8 of the 1,126 adults arrested for assault were gang members. Two of the 21 juveniles arrested for robbery were gang members, and none of the 16 arrested for assault belonged to a gang.
The department has been keeping statistics on gang crime for only two years, so it's not possible to gauge whether gang involvement in crime is growing or not.
"It's rare for us to have a homicide investigation to not have any sort of gang connection," Schwartz says, though she adds the city doesn't have a lot of homicides. "If we have a homicide, I almost expect someone involved to have a gang connection."