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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Police say gangs in a northwest Ohio city have become increasingly violent over the past couple of decades even as gang-related homicides were reported to be down last year compared with 2011, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Toledo police Chief Derrick Diggs says seven of Toledo’s 36 homicides last year were gang-related compared with 13 gang-related ones among the 37 homicides in 2011, but Diggs also says the city’s gangs are “absolutely” more violent now than in the late 1980s, The Blade newspaper of Toledo reported.
“Most of our problems are gangs, guns, and drugs,” Diggs said. “It’s all related.
Police track known gang members in an electronic database. They won’t make the exact numbers public, but the lieutenant overseeing the gang unit said there are an estimated 2,000 gang members in Toledo. The “big, major gangs” number anywhere from 25 to 40, Lt. Ed Bombrys said.
Diggs says new data-driven initiatives, including surveillance cameras and software identifying crime hot spots, are working. He cites preliminary data that suggest gang-related crimes are down.
Veteran police officers don’t disagree, but remain cautious as summer nears, according to the newspaper.
Police records show Toledo had 78 shootings from June through August, 2011 with five of them fatal. There were 55 shootings over the same period last year with seven fatal ones. Police started tracking gang-related shootings in April, 2011, and 218 of a reported 897 shootings since then are considered gang-related. Police refuse to make additional statistics on gang-related crimes available, according to the newspaper.
The Blade filed a lawsuit in July against the city for refusing to make the department’s gang-territories map public. The ongoing lawsuit in an Ohio appeals court alleges police violated the Ohio Public Records Act by not disclosing the map. The city has said the map is used in active criminal investigations and is not a public record.
A message seeking comment was left at police headquarters Sunday.
The newspaper has since created its own gang-territories map with gang members’ help and says its investigation found dozens of gangs, with each claiming territory for protection from rivals and to earn money from drug sales, burglaries, and robberies.
Paul Raczkowski, a Block Watch chairman in one neighborhood, said that while a gang can claim a territory, it might not be a visible problem until a gang needs to “act or react.”
Gang demographics haven’t changed much over the past couple of decades, with members mostly males ranging in age from about 15 to about 24. But girl gang members and girls creating their own gang subsets are becoming more prevalent, Bombrys said.
The police department established its first gang task force — made up of 12 officers who patrolled the city in six two-man units in 1990. Detectives took photos of every gang member they encountered, said Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp who was a unit member.
The unit now consists of 18 officers, with five officers added in December.
But the violence has continued, and gangs have spread with the number of members growing, the newspaper reported.