SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — “That could have been my head. They need to stop, they really do,” said Shamara Thomas after a trip to the corner store ended with a bullet ricocheting off the front windshield of her vehicle.
Thomas and her sister were in the front seat and their children were in the back when they suddenly found themselves in the crossfire of a West Side gun battle.
“The pizza was sitting right here, and my kids were in the back and my sister’s kid with Down Syndrome was in that back seat. I was waiting for her and I was hearing a lot of gunshots. My son was like, ‘mommy they’re shooting. Oh my God mommy.’ It just hit the windshield. And I panicked and my thought was, I got to get my kids out of here,” Thomas said.
Thomas says there were more bullets than she could count. NewsChannel 9 obtained an audio recording of that shooting, which determined seven shots were fired.
Detectives with the Syracuse Police Gang Violence Task Force were immediately on the scene to investigate whether it was another case of gang violence.
“For cases that we do, and instances like these, we use a series of them to paint a picture for neighborhoods. Oftentimes, there are unrelated persons that are victims of the shooting. Bullets don’t have names,” said Detective Bill Kittell.
Syracuse Police have documented 19 gangs operating in the City of Syracuse. In 2003, the department developed the Gang Violence Task Force to conduct investigations leading to federal prosecutions of suspected gang members.
Sgt. Don Patti is the GVTF Supervisor.
“What we do is gather historical information against gangs within the City of Syracuse, also current updated information. We do proactive investigations as well,” Patti said.
Sgt. Patti says gangs are touching a majority of the South Side.
“We are trying to combat the violence so the citizens within the neighborhoods can sleep peacefully and know their children can go out and play and not have to worry about gun violence,” Patti said.
But there are new worries and legal challenges for members of the Task Force as gangs continue to recruit kids.
“With the new raise the age policy, it’s enabling older members to get a larger target group to supply guns, to run the drugs, and just use them as tools. There are fewer consequences for the kids than there are for adults,” said Kittell.
NewsChannel 9’s Christie Casciano and photographer Jack Estabrook were given exclusive access and spent two days with detectives of the Gang Violence Task Force. During their ride-along, there were several arrests of documented gang members with warrants, including one that ended after a foot chase.
Learn more about the increasingly complex and shifting gang landscape in our digital extra below.
Facts/Tidbits from Syracuse Police:
- Approximately 950 gang members have been identified in Syracuse and there are approximately 1,400 gang and group members.
- Since 2003, there have been six gangs prosecuted, one of which was prosecuted twice, for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for a total of seven gang prosecutions.
- A total of 109 gang members were prosecuted, with one person being prosecuted twice.
- From 2016 to 2018, 44% of gun crimes were gang/group related. Of the shooting with injury and homicides, 76% were gang/group related. 60% of gun crime arrests were gang/group members. 44% of victims of gun crime were identified as a gang or group member.