Gangs are everywhere in Dane County, from the largest Madison high schools to the smallest rural hamlets.
In the latest of a series of informational meetings led by a Dane County detective who monitors local gang activity, Sun Prairie parents were told their help is needed.
Detective Joel Wagner estimated that 3 to 4 percent of Dane County youths are involved in a gang. Recruiting begins in the fourth grade, he said; gang members can be of any race and socioeconomic status, but are primarily kids who have fallen away from school and family and are looking for a group to belong to.
“The best thing is prevention,” Wagner said. “We need to get back to eyes and ears.”
“Know your children’s friends. Know them well,” he said. “Know your children’s friends’ parents. Know them better.”
Wednesday night’s meeting at Sun Prairie High School stretched more than two hours and included disturbing video of gang fights and other violence from Dane County and across the nation as well as online photos of gang members who identify themselves as being from Sun Prairie and other Dane County communities.
Particularly disturbing was video — not from Dane County — of a gang initiation in which a teen’s head was smashed into a cement curb and into a florescent light tube. In another video, a teen was beaten in a bathroom as part of an initiation.