Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Clayton gang problems among worst in metro Atlanta

Daniel Silliman:

When Clayton County Police Lieutenant Mark Thompson goes with the K-9 units to the county’s middle schools, he sees gangbangers.

“We have kids flashing gang signs at us,” Thompson said. “We have kids saying, ‘What would you do if you caught me doing an armed robbery?’ They’re talking about siccing Pitt Bulls onto our German Shepherds. If we can’t stop you before your first armed robbery then we can’t save you. ”

The Clayton County Police Gang Intelligence unit estimates there are 1,200 gang members in 47 criminal street gangs in the county, said Thompson, director of the police department’s gang intelligence. The members range in age from 13 to 22.

Clayton County has the second worst gang problem in metro Atlanta, according to Clayton County Police. In terms of the number of gangs, the growth rate of gangs and the number of gang members, Clayton is second only to Gwinnett County in the metro area, Thompson said.

“We’re second only to Gwinnett County and Glint tells me their fascinated - fascinated is probably the wrong word but it’s okay to be fascinated when it’s not your county - fascinated with the alarming growth and the rate of growth in Clayton County,” Thompson said.

The police estimated in 2005 that there were 47 active criminal street gangs in the county with about 1,200 members.

“We do not use the term wannabes,” Thompson said. “We did a gang count.” The Gang Intelligence unit interviews prisoners, gang members, high school students and teenagers hanging out on the streets.

Three of the 47 gangs are traditional national gangs, 16 are Latino gangs, eight are Asian gangs and 20 are classified as “hybrid” gangs. A hybrid gang is a gang that doesn’t have an affiliation with a national gang but may be seeking to become affiliated.

“They’re not yet affiliated with a national gang like the Crips or Folks, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be,” Thompson said.

Most of the hybrid gangs in Clayton County are black, Thompson said.

“Once they become affiliated with a national gang there’s more funding involved, there’s more firearms, there’s more drugs, there’s just more access to everything,” Thompson said. In addition to moving things into Clayton County, affiliation with a national gang also allows local gang members an easy way to leave the county after a crime and hide.

Many crimes in the county are gang related, police said, especially robberies, murders and rapes. A recent example of gang related violence was on Aug. 11 in College Park when two teenagers were shot on Riverdale Road by a passing vehicle. The teenagers shot on their way to the Kentucky Fried Chicken were members of the Hit Squad, Thompson said.

Since the incident, sources have told Thompson the attackers are Crips and that the Crips are planning to “roll down Riverdale Road and put pressure on the Hit Squad.”

Thompson said the police are worried the gang movement will mean a spate of violence on Riverdale Road and will be monitoring the situation.

The 1,200 estimated gang members are considered gang members if they meet a criteria that includes hanging out with known gang members, acknowledging they are gang members, having been “beaten” or “jumped” into a gang, “flying colors” such as colored bandannas, hats and shirts and wearing gang related tattoos.

All of the information on gang members taken from the interviews is put into an extensive data base that allows police to search for individuals by street names, the area where they are known to hang out, and a number of other categories.

“The computer program is something the (Drug Enforcement Agency) came up with. Gwinnett was using it and I liked it. There’s categories, there’s sub categories, there’s a lot of different areas you can pull up.”

The data base has been used to apprehend a number of people wanted in connection with county crimes, police said. Police can put a street name into the data base and find the person’s legal name, who they hang out, where they hang out and even where they live.

The growth of Clayton County gangs is related to economic conditions and populations. An increased number of Hispanic immigrants has recently increased the numbers of Hispanic gangs. Immigrant populations are often pressed into gangs for protection from other gangs, Thompson said.

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