For the past six years, Vic Reynolds has waged war against illegal street gangs as the Cobb County District Attorney. Today, Reynolds — who has gained national recognition in his efforts to end rising gang crime — takes on a new role.
He was recently named the new director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation by Gov. Brian Kemp, and today he begins the task of dismantling the estimated 71,000 gang members and associates who are criminally active in Georgia.
“I am honored by the Governor’s confidence in me,” says Reynolds. “The Governor has made clear that one of his key initiatives is to keep Georgians safe, and the fight against illegal street gangs and human trafficking is a big part of that. Governor Kemp wants to make sure the GBI is the literal point of the spear in investigating and arresting criminal street gangs throughout the state, and I am proud to be chosen to lead this initiative for him.”
Reynolds says the GBI can be key to dismantling illegal gangs because of their ability to work statewide, while local law enforcement can be limited by geographical boundaries.
“The GBI has the ability to work cases across county lines, and that is critical today because gangs don’t stop at certain boundaries anymore,” says Reynolds. “Years ago, gangs had certain turfs, but they don’t operate that way today — particularly here in Georgia. They work across county lines, and even across state lines. We have to be prepared to deal with that on certain occasions.”
Reynolds says his plans are to develop a strike force inside the GBI that specializes in gang investigations.
“And we’re going to hit the ground running pretty quickly,” he says. “We’re going to start looking at gang cases, making those cases, and arresting the criminals.”
“We have to remember the mission of the GBI,” Reynolds says. “They are not responders but come in when requested by local officials. I want to make sure those local officials know that we will make available a unit — a team of experts — who can come in and assist them from the very beginning of a gang case to the point the indictment is handed down. We will be available to assist in putting together the evidentiary standards to get a conviction, and we will have an embedded former prosecutor inside the unit who can assist the local prosecutor in drafting the indictments. We will be there from start to finish to help in any way we can.”
Reynolds says there are a lot of violent crimes linked to street gangs — including a tremendous amount of human trafficking. Reynolds pointed to a recently study out of San Diego that estimated that 85 percent of the human trafficking cases they came across were being run and operated by criminal street gangs.
In determining the extent of illegal gang activity in Georgia, Reynolds says you need to look at numbers presented by the Georgia Gang Investigators Association.
“They have a “soft estimate” of about 71,000 criminal street gangs in Georgia,” he says. “And the FBI has indicated there could be an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 gang members centered around the metro Atlanta area.”
He goes on to say that FBI statistics have also indicated that anywhere from 48 percent to 90 percent of all violent crimes anywhere are carried out by criminal street gang members.
“We are talking about minimally half of the violent crime in this country being committed by criminal street gang members,” he says. “And in some areas, up to 90 percent. They are wreaking havoc on us.”
Reynolds began focusing his efforts on battling street gangs soon after taking over his role as the top prosecutor in Cobb County in 2013 as the result of two driving forces. First, he hired Mike Carlson, who he describes as one of the top gang prosecutors in the state. And second, around the same time, a young police officer in Cobb County, Chuck Vill, was shot five times at point-blank range with a 40-calibre pistol by a validated member of the Ghost Face Gangsters.
“The officer survived and we were able to arrest that defendant.” Reynolds says. “That’s when I began learning more about gangs and Ghost Face Gangsters, and I realized we had a problem. I sent Mike (Carlson) on a mission to see what we could do here in Cobb to make it better
“We decided in mid-to-late 2014 that we were going to draw a proverbial line in the sand and we were going to prosecute gangs aggressively in this county, and we have been doing it since.”
Now, as the new director of the GBI, Reynolds is drawing a new line in the sand — across all of Georgia.