A small town that targets street gangs

Another interesting fact about LaGrange: he pays for a special prosecutor to focus on gang crimes. Over the past five years, LaGrange police and the Troup County prosecutor have sent to jail nearly as many criminal defendants on gang charges as Atlanta police and Fulton prosecutors. Yes, let that phrase sink in.

According to the state Department of Corrections, Troup has sent 147 people to jail on Street Gang Act charges since the start of 2017. Meanwhile, Fulton has fired 164 on such charges. The only other jurisdiction with more jailed gang members was Cobb County, with 224.

That Cobb leads the state in Street Gang Act convictions isn’t surprising, since prosecutor Michael Carlson, who specializes in the craft, worked there for several years. Willis hired him to do the same at Fulton.

Legend

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, along with police chiefs from other agencies, spoke at a news conference about his dissatisfaction with bail set by a Fulton County judge. The judge granted bail to an alleged gang member accused of shooting and seriously injuring an Atlanta police officer on Monday. Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Miguel Martinez/[email protected]

1 credit

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, along with police chiefs from other agencies, spoke at a news conference about his dissatisfaction with bail set by a Fulton County judge.  The judge granted bail to an alleged gang member accused of shooting and seriously injuring an Atlanta police officer on Monday.  Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

1 credit

callout arrowLegend

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, along with police chiefs from other agencies, spoke at a news conference about his dissatisfaction with bail set by a Fulton County judge. The judge granted bail to an alleged gang member accused of shooting and seriously injuring an Atlanta police officer on Monday. Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Miguel Martinez/[email protected]

1 credit

1 credit

Little LaGrange has no more gang members today than Atlanta’s 500,000 people or Fulton County’s million people. Many members of the big city’s Bloods and Crips or Sex Money Murder are sent to jail. It’s just that most of them were imprisoned for the crimes they’re convicted of, not for their allegiances.

Dekmar alias LaGrange passed the Gang Act as a tool ten years ago after a shooting at a local park injured seven bystanders.

“We had to do something after gang affiliation and targeting for disrespect became unstable and there was shooting without caring about anyone else around,” he said .

He said his force of 96 officers has two full-time gang investigators and two others certified in the field. They work in tandem with a prosecutor who practically only works on files sent by the city. LaGrange doesn’t have more gangs than other places, he says, he just pays more attention to them.

Herb Cranford, district attorney for the Coweta Five-County Circuit, which includes LaGrange, said a slew of crimes committed for the gang’s “benefit” or to “raise one’s status” can earn a member of the gang extra time. gang.

For years, local leaders were unwilling to acknowledge that gangs operated in the community, he said. It was bad for the civic image and for business. But after a few years of shootings, there was no way to ignore it.

Investigating gangs “requires tedious intelligence gathering and resources,” Cranford said. That’s more likely to happen in a place like LaGrange where the police have time to think things through and search for leads than in Atlanta, where the cops are drinking from a fire hydrant.

callout arrowLegend

LaGrange Police Chief Louis M. Dekmar, left, and Troup County NAACP President Ernest Ward meet Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, at the LaGrange Police Department. The leader’s public apology for his agency’s role in the lynching of a black man in 1940 is believed to be among the first for a law enforcement agency. CURTIS COMPTON/[email protected]

Credit: Curtis Compton

LaGrange Police Chief Louis M. Dekmar, left, and Troup County NAACP President Ernest Ward meet Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, at the LaGrange Police Department.  The leader's public apology for his agency's role in the lynching of a black man in 1940 is believed to be among the first for a law enforcement agency.  CURTIS COMPTON/CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Credit: Curtis Compton

callout arrowLegend

LaGrange Police Chief Louis M. Dekmar, left, and Troup County NAACP President Ernest Ward meet Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, at the LaGrange Police Department. The leader’s public apology for his agency’s role in the lynching of a black man in 1940 is believed to be among the first for a law enforcement agency. CURTIS COMPTON/[email protected]

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

For decades street gangs were more of an urban thing, but with social media there has been an expansion. “Now these local groups are joining the national brands,” he said.

There are reviews. Drew Findling, a defense attorney who has represented several defendants charged with gangs, said prosecutors use the term “gang” to “confuse the case and make it easier to prove the allegations.”

These cases, he said, typically allege the accused is an “associate” with the gangs. “They chain you down with that and you have to absorb all the body blows,” he said.

LaGrange Councilman Nathan Gaskin said he was troubled a few years ago to learn that investigators had compiled a list of about 400 gang members. “How did they do it? Social media? You can then take that information and create any story you want.

“Are the police targeting them? asked Gaskin. “Are they recouping fees they didn’t earn?

Dekmar said suspected gang members are only charged if they actually commit crimes, not for any association.

Gaskin has in the past called on the city to take action on violent crime. “I’m not saying gangs don’t exist, but the (methods of enforcement) can be punitive from the start,” he told me. “If you’re labeled as a gang member, your bond is stronger. Then they can sweat you to learn something they want to know.

This is a debate we will hear a lot about in the future.

Comments are closed.