In an exclusive to InsiderAdvantage the Georgia Gang Investigators Association (GGIA) released its 2019 county-by-county summary of criminal arrest warrant numbers under Code Section 16-15-4. That is the charging section of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act (SGA). While there are a few bright spots, GGIA’s study underscores a continuation of the systemic failings that helped create Georgia’s gang crisis in the first place.
While later columns will explore nuances, this report focuses on highlighting the “Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” from GGIA’s report.
According to GGIA President Jimmy Callaway, “Gang charging ultimately becomes a prosecutor leadership issue. In jurisdictions where the DA’s office is most committed to best practices, we tend to see the highest per capita numbers across the board.” This sentiment reinforced by Bobby Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. He declares that a gang crisis can only be defeated via a “persistent, steadily increasing, relentless surge of prosecution.”
Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Natalie Paine is in a league of her own. Paine’s jurisdiction, which covers Burke, Columbia, and Richmond Counties, showed these SGA warrant totals:
· Roughly one-quarter of Georgia’s entire tally;
· Significantly exceeding Metro Atlanta’s Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett Counties combined; and
· Marked increases from years past.
Paine’s achievements demonstrate bipartisanship. Two of the three sheriffs in Republican Paine’s circuit are Democrats. Moreover, Paine’s successes provide an ample test case for Georgia, as her jurisdiction contains urban, rural and suburban populations.
Georgia’s statewide SGA totals are far too low. Based upon GGIA’s 2018 calculation of 71,000 gang members operating in the Peach State, 2019 produced a meager 3.6% gang-member-to-arrest rate. This was not an appreciable improvement 2018’s 2.75% mark.
The “silver lining?” Georgia’s rural areas. As Callaway explains, “Without the increases in the Augusta area, as well as in rural counties [examples]…Georgia would have likely seen a noticeable decrease in gang warrants from 2018. These counties are spread across the state, which shows the positive influence of our U.S. Attorneys, Attorney General [Chris] Carr, and GBI Director [Vic] Reynolds, all of who have statutory limitations that local officials do not have.”
What are those statutory limitations? Callaway clarifies, “There is no federal gang prosecution law. The AG and GBI cannot investigate or prosecute cases under the Street Gang Act unless locals formally ask them to intervene. Some never do. All of these situations benefit gangs, increase gang crime, and deserves serious attention. GGIA has raised this issue for years.”
In 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation calculated that 50,000 of Georgia’s 71,000 gang members were located in metro Atlanta. When considered against 50,000, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties combined SGA arrest-to-gang member rate came to less than 1%.
While there was a slight increase in total warrants for these four counties, the rise is almost completely attributable to Gwinnett County markedly amplifying its SGA warrants.
Trending the other direction are Cobb and DeKalb Counties. According to GGIA, Cobb Street Gang Act arrest numbers were down roughly 25%. DeKalb dropped as well, and was by far the lowest of the four.
The gang crime denying mainstream media refuses to even inquire, much less explore, SGA warrants or accurately cover the crisis of gang crime facing Georgia.
Epitomizing this was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s March 26 “news” which whined that dangerous felons like convicted murders might actually have less-than-pleasant prison stays if gang members were off the streets and housed with them.
How about recognizing that if gang members are dangerous to other inmates behind bars, then they are really hazardous to innocent law abiding citizens?
By Far the Ugliest
For the 2020 legislative session, Kemp moved authoritatively by proposing important upgrades to Georgia’s anti-gang laws. With low SGA numbers and 71,000 gang members, the uninitiated would have thought that a Republican dominated Georgia House of Representatives would not only embrace Kemp’s plan, but volumize it.
However, Georgia’s House demolished key elements of Kemp’s bill, apparently seeking to ensure that:
1. Juvenile gang members committing gang crimes could not be prosecuted as adults;
2. Gangs committing crimes in multiple jurisdiction could not face justice efficiently and effectively in a single jurisdiction; and
3. Gang murders by gang members could not be punishable by death, no matter who the victims were.
This is appalling. The Conservative Review’s Daniel Horowitz blamed the influence of “pro-criminal organizations” for Georgia House Republicans giving gangs yet another legislative pass, “politicians…miss the point that most murder in this country is gang-related. Deterring violent gang members should be bipartisan, yet we can’t even get many Republicans to stand up to the de-incarceration crowd.”
Writing for Law Enforcement Today, InsiderAdvantage contributor Bill Black opined that the legislative assault on Kemp’s anti-gang bill was attributable to “misguided criminal justice reformers continu[ing] their unhinged campaign to subject innocent citizens to increased gang violence.”
Victims Deserve Better
Guarding the innocent is duty of government. As Horowitz recently observed, “Governments are instituted to protect the rights of the citizens through ordered liberty. Protecting us against criminals is the core reason we have government.”
Georgia’s truncated SGA arrest numbers demonstrate that, in far too many circles, stronger anti-gang commitment, leadership and legislation are needed now.
The time to “shelter in place” has hopefully given officials (especially state legislators) an opportunity to reflect, reconsider, and join the governor, GGIA, and others who properly prioritize their constitutional duty to protect law-abiding Georgians from gangs.
Phil Kent is the CEO & Publisher of InsiderAdvantage Georgia.