FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Fort Wayne police started noticing an uptick in violence last fall when two gangs started beefing and causing mayhem.
Mayhem included shooting, intimidation, drive-by shootings, theft and homicide.
Cooperation between the feds, patrol officers and specialized units like the Gang & Violent Crimes Unit, Vice & Narcotics Unit and Homicide has resulted in a greater number of guns taken off the streets and the incarceration of many of the perpetrators, according to Detective Sgt. Gary Hensler with the Gang Unit, who sat down with WANE TV for an interview Tuesday.
“Late last summer and last fall, we had a flare up between two local hybrid street gangs that kicked off. That led to a drastic increase in violent homicides and non-lethal shootings, drive bys, intimidation, the typical crimes that gangs contribute to. As a result of that, we focused with our own unit, Homicide, Narcotics and road officers …we all worked collaboratively and at this point, we’ve locked up the vast majority of both of those gangs,” Hensler said.
The two gangs that were beefing have between 20 to 30 members and are mostly young men between 16 and their early 20s. Most of them are 17 to 18 years old.
The arrests came from interdictions at hot spots, acting on information from road officers who were seeing criminal gang activity take place, and the homicide unit alerting them to hangouts or homes they frequented, Hensler said.
The gang unit has seized about 50 guns this year, an unprecedented number. At that rate, they will remove 200 guns – illegal, stolen and prohibited – from the streets this year. The guns are taken primarily at traffic stops. Last year, they took 121 guns off the street, the year before, 149.
Last year between the gang unit and vice and narcotics, a total of 218 guns were removed, according to the Fort Wayne Police Department’s annual report. The year prior, it was 223. These numbers don’t include the guns removed by patrol officers Hensler called “the boots on the ground.”
“They’re still for the most part pistols, but what we’re seeing is an increase in rifle caliber pistols on the streets, like AR pistols, AK pistols, like a weapon called Draco pistols. We’re seeing a much higher percentage of these than we were seeing a couple of years ago,” Hensler said adding that these kinds of guns are popular and more readily available.
“They are high powered and more concealable than a regular long gun.”
Long guns tend to have 16-inch barrels with a butt stock. These guns may have a 10-inch barrel with a tube at the back of it instead of a butt stock. Typically these shorter-barreled guns take the regular rifle magazine with 30 rounds and sometimes drum magazines that have 90 rounds, Hensler noted. The gang or clique members get their guns off the streets by either buying them, stealing them or even borrowing them, Hensler said.
The gangs may start as neighborhood gangs and then progress to school. The gang seems to replace a family unit and provides “safety in numbers,” Hensler said.
Taking guns off the street and locking up likely shooters has likely kept the homicide rate low. This year from January through March, Fort Wayne has had three homicides. All of them are female victims.
Last year, the toll was eight by the end of March and all but two were men.
The number of non-fatal shootings for the three-month period is up from last year. In 2021 there were 30 non-fatal shootings with eight charges of pointing a firearm at another person and 5 shooting into an inhabited dwellings.
Between January and March of this year, there were 41 non-fatal shootings reported that included 22 instances of pointing a firearm at another person and five shooting into an inhabited dwelling. Statistics were provided by Sgt. Jeremy Webb, FWPD public information officer.
Even though violent crime has risen nationwide with homicides rising 7% last year and surging 29% in 2020, that hasn’t been the case in Fort Wayne. Last year Allen County had 48 homicides, one shy of a record set in 2016. The year prior, the homicide number was 43.
Nor has there been a great deal of change with other violent crimes. The first two months of 2021 there were 13 rapes reported, 29 robberies and 51 aggravated batteries. This year, there were 17 rapes, 21 robberies and 54 aggravated batteries, Webb’s statistics show.
Of the three homicides this year, one is cleared, that of Ro Ze Mar, 24, on March 19. Her husband, Har San, was charged with her murder.
Two others remain to be solved. On Feb. 26, Lashawndra Denise McDowell, 40 was gunned down at her dead son’s angelversary party at a venue on Oliver Street.
On Jan. 29, Maria del Socorro Maldonado Ambriz was violently abducted from her home in the 5100 block of Standish Drive and shot inside her vehicle.
Neither one has been cleared and police are asking anyone to come forward with information.