In 2004, a Wisconsin state law enforcement agent walked into the path of what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel calls the latest pervasive mutation of local street crime: the desperate, transitory “crime crew.” Big gangs have a shadow of their former influence, but they have been replaced by small, loosely organized bands of young men who commit strings of violent offenses before breaking up, or ending up behind bars. Their unpredictability confounds even veteran street cops and prosecutors who despite years of studying street-crime patterns are suddenly behind the times.
“They are the least predictable; they’re the toughest to break up because they can be so spontaneous,” said Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who led the county’s gun-crimes prosecutions for six years and has considered a specialized prosecution team to go after crews. Authorities believe a large percentage of the hundreds of shootings – 640 in 2005, 808 in 2006 – that happen annually on Milwaukee’s streets can be attributed to the carnage of crime crews. Examples of their volatility filter through Milwaukee’s justice system every day. Last week, one crew member pleaded guilty to a string of armed robberies and other crimes committed with a rotating group of accomplices. The Journal Sentinel, in a three-part series that includes prison interviews with convicts, tells the story of Milwaukee’s violent crews.