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Breaking the cycle

Wisconsin tribes and law battle gangs, drugs

GREEN BAY, Wis. - Malsum, Lox and Windigo are among the demons that legends blame for the morbid destruction brought upon tribes and Native youth; but police have two words for present-day devils of death in Indian country: gangs and drugs.

Wisconsin tribes and law enforcement hope to ;'stop the cycle'' of gangs and drugs destroying American Indian youth by providing proactive help for endangered children through counseling, mentoring, culture/heritage classes, and stopping drug abuse in the home.

The Wisconsin Alliance for Drug Endangered Children (WIDEC) has teamed with the Native American Drug and Gang Initiative to educate police, social service workers, counselors, teachers, medical professionals and others to identify youth who live in homes where drugs are used, dealt or manufactured.

''Overall, we have done a very poor job to break that cycle,'' said Oneida Tribal Chief of Police and head of NADGI Richard Van Boxtel. ''We need to work seamlessly with social services and the other service providers to make sure we know what each has to offer.''

''Breaking that cycle'' is important because Van Boxtel said he's arrested generations of the same family.

''With some of the adults I have arrested, I have arrested their kids and their kids,'' he said.

A two-day training conference involving more than 100 representatives from numerous agencies, held in late April at the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena, ''was the first of its kind in the nation to be attended by representatives of each tribe within a state,'' according to a press release from Wisconsin Attorney General John Byron ''J.B.'' Van Hollen.

''The whole purpose is to break the cycle for children who live in drug-endangered environments and are exposed to use, trafficking or manufacture of drugs - so they can have a normal life or they can get out of the cycle of drug exposure,'' said Cindy Giese, special agent in charge at the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation Narcotics Bureau and WIDEC coordinator.

Of the 11 tribes in Wisconsin, only eight have tribal police departments. The others work closely with state and federal law enforcement agencies. All 11 tribes are creating their own community-based DEC programs with members that include law enforcement, child protective service agencies, prosecutors, probation and parole, schools, substance abuse treatment and other health providers.

NADGI and WIDEC ''have a holistic approach to helping these kids,'' Van Boxtel said.

''We are very good at swooping in and arresting adults and taking kids out of the house, but now we will do follow-up and get help from all service providers we have access to.''

Giese said the WIDEC program has struck a cord on reservations.

''One of the differences on the reservations [compared to other communities] is their extreme interest in belief in family and tradition because they realize if these problems are not addressed, who is going to carry on the family?''

While the project targets all youth stuck in drug environments, police know that drug gangs bring most of the methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and marijuana to reservations.

Police have identified at least four gangs in the state, and about half of the 11 Wisconsin reservations report gang activity.

The gangs include the Latin Kings, Gangster Disciples, Native Mob and Sovereign Natural Warriors, police said. Gangs use a wide range of symbols and specific colors.

NADGI has begun to use ''statewide information sharing'' between police agencies because it is ''very difficult'' following drug gangs traveling from ''reservation to reservation setting up a network,'' Van Boxtel said. Exchanging information between law enforcement agencies will help ''interrupt these networks.''

The drug ''societies on reservation are very closed to outsiders,'' he noted.

Experts say that gangs began infiltrating reservations almost 20 years ago, and have deepened their roots by marrying Native women, providing easy cash, and doing other favors. Some American Indians bring gangs home after joining while imprisoned on drug and other criminal charges.

Meth use has led to violence in Indian country; however, a growing problem is prescription drugs that are stolen from medicine cabinets.

Pulled into the drug world by watching parents, sometimes children are used in packaging or hiding contraband, Giese said.

''Children begin to repeat that [parental] behavior.''

Wisconsin teachers are required by law to report suspected neglect and abuse. The training provides educators with warning signs of drug-endangered children including skipping school, falling asleep in class, violence and inappropriate knowledge of the drug trade.

Some young children are learning the metric system before they understand traditional American math.

''Many kids will tell you what 28 grams is because they are helping to split up dope or measure it,'' Giese said. ''Children of a young age should not know how much a gram of cocaine costs - that's a red flag.''

WIDEC will ''identify those children sooner that need additional resources,'' she added.

Van Boxtel said tribal police are working with other law enforcement agencies ''to get our arms around'' the leaders, dealers and supply routes of the gang drug trade on reservations.

''We need to make an impact on the drug trade on the rez. We want to get a handle on the highway - the drug flow.''

Three large roundups of drug traffickers in 2005 and 2006 involved 59 arrests from the Lac Courte Oreilles, 32 from the Lac du Flambeau and 32 from the Menominee reservations.

Reservation-related marijuana and cocaine convictions resulted in state and federal prison time. Some American Indians selling crack cocaine received 17- to 20-year prison terms.

''Some of those in prison have written letters to the editor in the local paper saying 'save the children,''' Giese said.

When possible, police will now identify the number and ages of children before a raid and notify social service agencies so placement and counseling is organized beforehand.

''In the past, we searched for drugs, seized money and assets and made arrests and now we will attempt to get children out of that environment,'' Giese said.

The WIDEC program is ''not about breaking up families,'' Giese said, explaining that ''DEC is about finding services for children, coordination and working together for children.''

WIDEC hopes to prevent splitting up homes through education and counseling; reunite families by helping arrested parents change their lives; and provide other wide-ranging resources for all, she said. It will provide ''good mentors for those kids so they can model positive behavior.''