Acclaimed gang prosecutors, acting Cobb District Attorney John Melvin and Chief Assistant District Attorney Mike Carlson’s April 18 Forum column on the Metro Atlanta Gang Intelligence Meeting delivered outstanding information. That conference, hosted by the Georgia Gang Investigator’s Association (“GGIA”), however, also revealed where much work remains to be done to, in the words of Governor Brian Kemp, “stop and dismantle” gangs in Georgia. Simply put, Georgia’s gang arrest rates are disturbingly low.
There is no gang case without a gang charge. GGIA has studied the number of arrests under Georgia’s Street Gang Act (O.C.G.A. § 16-15-4) for 2018. Statewide, all law enforcement in Georgia combined for less than 1,000 Street Gang Act Violation arrests, totaling a mere 857 individuals arrested for those charges in 2018. In Metro Atlanta, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties combined for only 255 O.C.G.A. § 16-15-4 arrestees during that year.
For percentages, a separate GGIA 2018 study determined that 71,000 gang members and associates operate in Georgia. Using that number as a baseline, Georgia law enforcement’s 2018 statewide gang member arrest rate was 1.2%.
Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett fared even worse. Against the FBI’s 2018 estimate of 50,000 gang members in Metro Atlanta, the collective gang member arrest rate for those five counties collectively came to .51% for 2018.
Federal numbers are also abysmal. Because there is no federal anti-gang prosecution law akin to Georgia’s, direct comparisons are not available. However, examining “Safe Streets Violent Crime Initiative” is instructive.
According to the Department of Justice, the Safe Streets Violent Crime Initiative, was implemented as the FBI “increased its focus on violent gangs.” From 2001 to 2010, USDOJ states that Safe Streets accounted for 57,106 arrests.
Federal statistics have for years advised that there are well-over one million gang members in the U.S. Based on one million gang members, Safe Streets accounted for a consolidated gang member arrest rate of 5.71% over ten years. The average annual rate of gang member arrests for Safe Streets over that period would accordingly be only .57%.
As alarming as these federal, state, and local numbers appear, they are likely generous and paint a rosier picture than what actually exists. Future articles will likely provide support for this conclusion. But, for example, during the Safe Streets initiative, gang membership actually increased by 400,000 in just two years (2009-2011), reaching 1.4 million.
Public safety demands that gang member arrests on gang charges increase. Gangs will continue to operate with near impunity in Georgia and across the nation unless law enforcement utilizes its strongest tool—specifically tailored anti-gang laws—to disrupt their criminal activities, victimization, and recruitment. Georgia law enforcement leadership should use the current statistics as a rallying point to focus on making cases under O.C.G.A. § 16-15-4.
Bobby Christine, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, has stated that a “persistent, steadily increasing, relentless surge of prosecution” in necessary to defeat gang crime. To ensure this across Georgia, law enforcement must dedicate itself to investigating and charging prosecutable cases under Georgia’s Street Gang Act.
Beating Georgia’s Gang Crisis requires that police agencies aggressively utilize the laws designed to stop and dismantle those very gangs, like Georgia’s Street Gang Act. This needs to be the rule and not the exception.
In 2019, GGIA will redouble its commitment to making sure that rule followed.
James “Jimmy” Callaway serves as the President of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association and is the Chief of Police for the City of Morrow, Police Department in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Callaway has authored this column in his personal capacity. The views expressed above are the Author’s own and do not necessarily express those of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association or the City of Morrow.