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Last updated: Thu. May. 28, 2009 - 10:45 am EDT

FBI gang unit forms to head off city crime

It's the FBI's belief that Fort Wayne has a gang problem, and the bureau thinks it has the answer.

A specialized gang-fighting unit within the FBI has descended upon the city, working in conjunction with the Fort Wayne Police Department, Allen County Sheriff's Department and Indiana State Police to combat violent gangs and organized crime here.

The Safe Streets Task Force unit has been successful in other Indiana cities including Indianapolis, Evansville, Merrillville and Gary, and the bureau feels it will have similar results in Fort Wayne, according to Special Agent Wendy Osborne of the FBI, spokeswoman for the unit.

“We investigate and attempt to disrupt and dismantle organized groups of individuals that are focused on violent crimes and gang-type crimes,” said Osborne. “We like to think there is a need for it, or we wouldn't have put one together and asked for the combined resources of the other agencies.”

The task force is designed to work alongside local law enforcement. . It will pull officers from the local departments and assign them to full-time federal duty - a strategy that works to localize the enforcement and take down gang and organized-crime efforts.

The Safe Streets Violent Crime Initiative branch was developed in 1992 with the goal of investigating and collapsing violent street gangs and drug-related violence by using long-term investigations and sensitive techniques, according to the national FBI Web site.

The FBI employs 131 Violent Gang Safe Streets task forces and eight Violent Crime/Gang Safe Streets Task Forces nationwide, according to the site.

The task force will focus efforts on the vast and violent organized gangs and organized crime units, bringing them down from the top.

“We target all along the food chain, so to speak, but we're interested in taking out not just the distributors that are on the street, but we look at the hierarchy,” said Osborne. “We're looking at the folks that are at the top.”

The force has been working with local law enforcement forabout six weeks, according to Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York, who was hesitant to say the city has a gang problem.

York said the task force's presence in Fort Wayne is not a sign that the city has a gang problem, but rather it should be tied to the FBI's focused national effort to place its presence and resources back into communities.

Regardless, York said he welcomes the assistance.

“Federal agencies bring so much to the table as far as their abilities to secure different tools through the federal system that are almost impossible for us to get without their help,” he said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has called a news conference for 1:30 p.m. today to further discuss the gang task force.

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