Crime & Courts

Wichita gang violence up over last year

Gang violence in Wichita is up through mid-July over the same period last year, a lieutenant with the city police’s gang unit said Thursday.

Gang-related drive-by shootings doubled from 5 to 10 year-to-date when comparing 2013 to 2012’s numbers, while aggravated assaults involving firearms jumped from 18 to 29.

Gang-involved homicides, however, are down in 2013, with five reported through July 8. In 2012, there were seven.

“The average for this year is a little bit higher” than in 2012, Wichita police Lt. Scott Heimerman, of the gang unit, said. He added that overall numbers of drive-by shootings and aggravated assaults, including non-gang crimes, were also up.

Comparing 2013’s year-to-date gang violence totals to a five-year average of gang-related violent crime, Heimerman said, “we’re not that bad.”

Heimerman and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett offered the statistics Thursday during the D.A.’s weekly meeting with news media.

Wichita’s latest slaying – a shoot-out between rival gangs early Sunday morning that left 27-year-old James Gary dead and four other injured – prompted discussion of Wichita’s latest gang violence numbers and what police are doing to combat it across the city.

Both men refused to talk about Sunday’s homicide, but Bennett called the 27-year-old’s killing “the latest in a string of acts of violence that our gang unit has had to work.”

More than 4,000 gang members, active and inactive, live in Wichita, Heimerman said. They belong to between 40 and 50 gangs that operate across town. No ethnic or racial group is excluded.

As of Monday, 115 people had been charged with gang-related crimes in Sedgwick County District Court since the beginning of the year, Bennett said, compared with 89 for the same period in 2012.

Also since Jan. 1, authorities have seized 48 guns and arrested 515 gang members, Bennett said. Last year through mid-July, 34 guns had been seized and 538 gang members arrested.

Even though gang crime appears to be rising, Heimerman said the Police Department’s efforts to combat gang violence through enforcement, prevention and education are working.

“We actively address and target the most-violent of gang members within the city of Wichita,” Heimerman said, citing police efforts to enforce curfews for those on probation and who have pending court cases, as well as keep guns out of felons’ hands. Gang offenders are also “targeted for the most-aggressive prosecution” by Bennett and on a federal level, he said.

Police continue to work with the Wichita Crime Commission to offer a gang-tattoo removal program, and to identify and help at-risk youth get involved in sports or other gang-free activities, he said.

The best thing people can do, though, to combat gang violence is call police, Heimerman and Bennett agreed.

“The simplest answer is to get involved,” Bennett said. “Report it. ... Talk. Tell us what you know. Tell Crime Stoppers if you’re afraid to come forward.”

Gang members “count on people not wanting to get involved out of fear of retribution,” he said. “And the silence is what allows this behavior to continue.”