On October 25th Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds and Fulton County Chief Magistrate Court Judge Cassandra Kirk hosted statewide training aimed at dismantling Georgia’s gang crisis. It featured judges and top investigators from across the Peach State convening at GBI headquarters to learn about Georgia’s visionary anti-gang laws.
After an impressive welcome from Reynolds (a former chief magistrate), Kirk lauded the GBI’s top gang prosecutors and investigators whose expertise and resiliency towards gang crime was the basis for inviting all Georgia magistrates to the event. This became readily apparent as GBI Chief of Staff John Melvin and GBI Chief Counsel Mike Carlson delivered the training. It focused on:
· The enormity of the gang crisis;
· How Georgia’s anti-gang laws (O.C.G.A. § 16-15-1, et seq.) enable law enforcement and prosecutors to tackle and dismantle it.
This visionary plan was evident since magistrate courts take on the bulk of the preliminary decisions as to whether criminal cases will move forward or whether bond will be granted in gang related cases. Reynolds’s and Kirk’s program ensured that a great many Georgia magistrates are fully up to speed on the Peach State anti-gang laws.
But unless law enforcement and prosecutors submit cases under O.C.G.A. § 16-15-1 et seq., there is nothing for those courts to consider. Therein the problem lies.
As Georgia Gang Investigators Association Director of Education and Training Ray Ham has explained: Georgia gang arrests are appallingly low. Metro Counties fare the worst. Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett only totaling, together, 293 Street Gang Act violation warrants thus far for 2019. And bear in mind this is with the FBI stating that there are 50,000 gang members in Metro-Atlanta.
Despite this, some in politics and media have at the very least implied that Atlanta gang crime is the fault of the Fulton magistrate court bench. Fortunately, columns by InsiderAdvantage’s Phil Kent and Georgia Gang Investigators Association President Jimmy Callaway discovered that anti-gang cases were simply not being made in the first place.
In other words, as pointed out at GBI: Magistrate Judges Did Not Cause the Gang Crisis. Period.
If other prosecutor services organizations took a similar approach to Reynolds’ and Kirk’s training, there would be fewer excuses for law enforcement and prosecutors to bring cases under O.C.G.A. § 16-15-1 et seq. It should also help clarify politically-charged statements from those who point fingers at magistrate judges instead of drilling down on the number of anti-gang law warrants, anti-gang law indictments, and anti-gang law sentences, as anti-gang experts have recommended for years.
Let’s hope for public safety’s sake that law enforcement and prosecution take heed. The gangs hope they don’t.
Bill Black is a Georgia attorney who graduated with honors from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and is concluding his Master of Laws at Georgetown University Law Center. The opinions are his own.