When a gang-related shooting happens, it often doesn’t end with just one incident. A single shooting can lead to a widening web of violence and chaos.

So Minneapolis police have formed a new gang unit designed to take a more sophisticated approach to the threat of retaliatory bloodshed between gangs.

“This violence tends to go back and forth,” said Cmdr. Scott Gerlicher, who is in charge of Minneapolis police strategic analysis and oversees the unit. “We have some officers here who can be dedicated to try to intervene and disrupt that cycle of violence.”

The gang interdiction unit officially launched last week and is already beginning its work. The team is made up of five officers and one sergeant who work night shifts throughout the week to help “identify, disrupt and defuse gang violence throughout the city,” Gerlicher said.

Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau announced plans for the unit at a City Council meeting in April, as the city began taking steps to stem the typical rise in violent crime during the summer months. Dozens of shootings and several homicides in early spring have been linked to gang-related disputes.

The team won’t be concentrating much on ongoing investigations, which will still be handled by other officers. Instead, the new unit will be more street-based and focused on preventing new crime, said Lt. Jeff Rugel, who is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the team.

Those on the unit are familiar with gang members and their associates and enemies, Rugel said.

After a shooting involving gang members, officers on the team could go to the victim’s friends to warn them against retaliation, he said.

Rugel said the team can send a strong signal to gang members: “Look, we know your friend got shot, but if you retaliate we know who you are, we know where you live, we’ll be coming for you.”

“Stopping that next shooting is going to be [the unit’s] goal,” he said.

For example, alleged gang members shot up a house a couple times during the spring because members believed a rival member spent time at the home. However, Rugel said, it was a relative who lived there.

Officers watching the home saw vehicles going by the house slowly. They stopped a car and it turned out people in the vehicle had warrants for their arrests.

“It sends a message,” Rugel said of the team’s efforts.

The Minneapolis police used to have a gang-specific unit, but it was eliminated in 2013. The previous unit had a more investigative focus, Rugel said.

An advantage of a team solely focused on emergent crime is that the unit can spend more time devoted to particular incidents that a typical patrol officer might not have time to track, he said.

“Too often, especially on a warm summer night, the regular patrol cars, they’re handling a lot of 911 calls, so you can’t ask a patrol car to drop what they’re doing and go watch a house for two hours,” Rugel said.

The gang specialists can also be information resources for patrol officers and gather intelligence on gangs, or help with surveillance or possible follow-ups to assist investigators, Gerlicher said.

Another goal is for officers to intervene with youths or others who can be at risk of becoming more involved in gangs, he said.

The re-formation of a gang-specific unit comes at a time when local gangs have become more fluid and less organized. Gangs nowadays splinter and form other groups, Rugel said. He blamed some of the quick changes on social media and the immediacy of new communications methods.

Disputes between gang members are not always motivated by traditional rivalries, Gerlicher said. Sometimes the fights stem from someone disrespecting somebody on social media or over romantic entanglements, he said.

“Sometimes, it’s not what it appears,” Rugel said.


Twitter: @nicolenorfleet