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Authorities arrest several Omaha gang members linked to refugee community

Authorities arrest several Omaha gang members linked to refugee community

Several Omaha gang members accused of violent crimes, drug sales and robberies were arrested Wednesday by federal and local law enforcement officers.

Five gang members were arrested, and another six gang members already in custody were charged with federal crimes. One person still is being sought by authorities.

Most of the gang members had ties to the Trip Set gang, which is primarily made up of youths from the refugee community, mainly those of Sudanese descent, officials said.

The Trip Set gang has become prevalent in Omaha over the past three years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, with about 150 gang members and associates. The gang makes money through credit card fraud, drug sales and violent crimes such as robbery, home invasions and burglaries, officials said. From June to October 2018, officials said, the gang was involved in six assaults.

Officers from the Omaha Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were involved in the operation, which U.S. Attorney Joe Kelly said “removed some very dangerous individuals from our community.”

“We are very pleased with the determination, coordination and cooperation among these agencies, as well as the Douglas County Attorney’s Office, in this very successful investigation,” Kelly said.

In addition to the arrests, officers found 41 guns, 10 of which were stolen, and 31 ounces of marijuana.

Sudanese refugees started coming to Omaha about 20 years ago. The city has one of the largest populations of South Sudanese in the United States.

Many Sudanese, if not most, have successfully assimilated into the community. But some teens have fallen into gang life, said Omaha Police Capt. Tom Shaffer, who heads the gang unit.

“When we’re dealing with gangs, we’re seeing the refugee population being there consistently,” Shaffer said.

Some Sudanese gangs have formed, Shaffer said, but many youths have become part of already-established gangs because they follow friends or classmates who are gang members.

Omaha police work to prevent young people from becoming involved in gangs and criminal activity, which is why they’re looking for a gang intervention specialist who can relate to refugees or children of refugees. The specialist job will be a non-sworn position in the department. The person will spend time in schools, at community events and at locations of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands.

“It’s just one more way we can get in touch with these kids before they’re too ingrained with gang life,” Shaffer said. “Hopefully, it’ll be someone from their culture. They’ll feel more comfortable and trust them more than maybe they do a government entity, like the Police Department.”

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Officials hope to hire someone from the South Sudanese community, but anyone with refugee ties could be considered because authorities don’t want other groups to get involved in gangs, either, said Deputy Police Chief Ken Kanger.

Monday, another gang intervention specialist, Ashley Jones, started working for the department. She will work with all youths, Shaffer said, but will focus on young women.

Jones and the refugee-focused gang intervention specialist will join Terrence Mackey, who since 2015 has been the department’s north Omaha gang specialist, and Alberto Gonzales, who has worked as the South Omaha gang specialist since 2014.

The Police Department recently welcomed its first officer born in southern Sudan, who has graduated from training and started patrolling.

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