Gang crackdown surprises Holland residents

11:34 PM, Jul 19, 2012   |    comments
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Update at 11:00 P.M. (WZZM)-- Some Holland residents say they are surprised to learn the city has a gang problem that requires a response by federal, state and local police.

"I see no evidence of any problem," says Jeffrey Palmer, an officer in a Holland neighborhood association.

"Not aware of anything," agrees Holland resident Mark Beckman.

Under direction of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Grand Rapids, heavily armed S.W.A.T. teams descended on a number of Holland houses Thursday morning, searching for gang members.

"[I] looked out the window and the S.W.A.T. van was in our neighbor's yard," says Palmer.

"The S.W.A.T. team lined up down the street," recalls resident Kelley Pasatta. "Hiding behind trees, you know. [There were] lots and lots of police officers."

The squads of officers arrested an unknown number of suspects for crimes still not disclosed.

"When they went upstairs next door, we saw a flash of light and then hands going up in the air," says Beckman.

"It seems like overkill," says Palmer. "I walk that block every day and I'm not aware of any activity."

Leaders of ESCAPE, a Holland organization dedicated to helping young people get out of gangs, say there are black, Asian and Latino gangs operating in the city. They say members enroll because they are bored, can't find jobs and can make money in the gang committing minor crimes and dealing drugs. Except for spray painted symbols here and there, they say the gangs are mostly invisible to the general public.

"Holland has the same city problems as anyone else," says 3rd Ward Councilman Brian Burch.

"I never had anything like this happen in Chicago and we lived in the city," says Kelly Pasatta. "It's very funny to move into Holland, Michigan and this would happen to us."

HOLLAND, Mich. (WZZM) - Multiple law enforcement agencies are involved in an investigation into gang activity in Holland. 

Today the U.S. Attorney's office issued a statement describing the investigation as "coordinated efforts of the Ottawa County Prosecutor's Office; the Holland Police Department; the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department; the Michigan State Police; the Michigan Department of Corrections, Parole Office; and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives."

Authorities acted on a number of search warrants today in Holland. It's not known how many people were involved.

The U.S. Attorney's office says due to the nature of the investigation it will not be releasing any other details.

An anti-violence group in Holland, called Escape, provides young people with free activities to keep them out of gangs. The group's director shared what he believes is one reason why the city has a gang problem.

"Can you imagine what happens if Holland was to give jobs to some of the kids in the community, the same kids that are tearing up the parks? Now, they'd have to clean it up and there would be less crime and activity in the parks. We've got to put these kids back to work," says Willie Watt, Executive Director of Escape.

If you witnessed authorities carrying out search warrants in the Holland area, we want to hear from you. Call 616-559-1315 or email us at news@wzzm13.com

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