Gang mem­ber­ship grow­ing in Polk County

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Myrick [email protected]­stan­dard­jour­nal.com

The prob­lem of or­ga­nized crime is not a new one in Polk County, but lo­cal of­fi­cials are get­ting bet­ter ac­quainted with who they face on the streets of Polk County when gang-re­lated in­ci­dents happen in the com­mu­nity.

Lo­cal pub­lic safety of­fi­cials worked to­gether to host Dar­rell Reynolds, a state in­ves­ti­ga­tor with the ti­tle of As­sis­tant Statewide Se­cu­rity Threat Group Co­or­di­na­tor within the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Correction­s to talk about the in­crease of gang-re­lated ac­tiv­ity within the state, and more specif­i­cally the groups that law en­force­ment find op­er­at­ing in the cities and county.

Whether they be the Gang­ster Dis­ci­ples, the old ri­valry be­tween Crips and Bloods, Aryan Brother­hood or a newer groups like the Ghost­face Gang that was started here in Ge­or­gia, these gangs pro­lif­er­ate in Polk County like any­where else.

Reynolds in fact started a more than two hour ses­sion by point­ing out that no mat­ter where one goes in the state, gang mem­bers come from and op­er­ate in ev­ery city and county in Ge­or­gia. He said growth over the past decades of or­ga­nized crime groups have come since At­lanta was rec­og­nized as a world­wide me­trop­o­lis with the com­ing of the 1996 Olympic Sum­mer Games.

“When you lock up the bad guys, I want you all to un­der­stand that when you lock them up and they’re sit­ting in prison for five, to ten, to 15, to 20 years, that doesn’t mean they stop their crim­i­nal en­ter­prises,” Reynolds said. “That gang mem­ber Lit­tle Billy that’s here in Rock­mart, Ge­or­gia, that’s a gang mem­ber that you all said ‘Oh, that’s Lit­tle Billy. He’s a play player, he’s a wanna-be gang banger. Get that out of your head too.”

Here in Polk County alone there have been more than three dozen Gang­ster Dis­ci­ples (also known as Growth and Devel­op­ment,) and another three dozen Ghost­face Gang­sters, more than 90 mem­bers of the Aryan Brother­hood or other white power-based groups, 17 Bloods, 11 Crips and at least five of what Reynolds called a hy­brid gang. Those with­out a na­tional af­fil­i­a­tion but base it off other or­ga­nized gangs.

That cen­sus of mem­bers is only based on those caught and con­victed of crimes, then ques­tioned when head­ing into prison about tat­toos and an in­di­vid­ual pris­oner’s role in a gang and recorded for fu­ture ref­er­ence.

So likely, the num­bers of gang mem­bers op­er­at­ing in Polk County are higher than what is recorded, since new re­cruits are be­ing sought on a daily ba­sis.

Each gang has their own set of rules and codes, by­laws writ­ten down and mem­o­rized by each new mem­ber, ini­ti­a­tion rit­u­als to un­der­take in much the same man­ner as fra­ter­ni­ties and soror­i­ties have spe­cial rit­u­als to welcome con­verts into the fold.

Reynolds explained the dif­fer­ences be­tween each, who is en­e­mies with who and gave ex­am­ples of their ac­tiv­i­ties al­ready re­ported by At­lanta news from around the metro area and state.

Some are well es­tab­lished

within the na­tional cul­ture and stereo­typed in por­tray­als on movie and tele­vi­sions as thugs on a street cor­ner, while oth­ers like the Ghost­face Gang or Good­fel­las are rel­a­tively new on the scene, and got their start in Ge­or­gia correction­s fa­cil­i­ties.

“Gangs have been here in Ge­or­gia, but they’ve be­come preva­lent here in the past 10 years,” Reynolds said. “We’re a me­trop­o­lis, and peo­ple are mov­ing here ev­ery­day. It’s not just At­lanta. There’s no county or city in the state of Ge­or­gia im­mune to gangs. I see this, trav­el­ing the state daily whether I’m teach­ing or in­ves­ti­gat­ing.”

Within the state alone in the past few years, gang pop­u­la­tions have ex­ploded in cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties. Where Ge­or­gia pre­vi­ously had un­der 1,000 within state cus­tody, there are now more than 14,000 within the sys­tem out of 51,000 in­mates housed in pris­ons on a daily ba­sis ro­tat­ing in and out.

Reynolds said the state is also tak­ing mea­sures to fig­ure out how to track the growth of gang re­cruit­ment within

jail to see where num­bers re­ally are since he pointed out that de­spite best ef­forts of state in­ves­ti­ga­tors, they can’t keep track of every­one who joins a gang be­hind bars.

One of the ways of­fi­cials can be­gin to curb the abil­ity for gangs to op­er­ate in a com­mu­nity is tak­ing steps to bet­ter un­der­stand how they do busi­ness, and what can be done to cur­tail their ac­tiv­i­ties.

First, one must un­der­stand that crim­i­nal en­ter­prises form be­cause a need is not be­ing ful­filled in a reg­u­lar open mar­ket. They take ad­van­tage of that by be­com­ing a part of an un­der­ground econ­omy, or in lay­men’s terms a black mar­ket. The predominan­t items sold by gangs on a black mar­ket are drugs of all kinds, il­le­gally ob­tained firearms and stolen or coun­ter­feit goods.

Gangs also take part in ex­tor­tion schemes, in pro­vid­ing il­le­gal gam­bling ac­tiv­ity and loans, smug­gling, theft, drug pro­duc­tion, pros­ti­tu­tion and much more. Think of a way out­side the law to make money, and gangs have

ei­ther tried it or con­tinue to use it as a source of in­come to this day.

Fraud is another big way gangs have car­ried out mak­ing money both in­side and out of pris­ons.

Reynolds told the story of one gang that were able to fake calls to guests in ho­tel rooms mak­ing them believe their credit cards on file for in­ci­den­tals were not work­ing, and get­ting work­ing card num­bers to use in­side and out­side of jail to col­lect money and make pur­chases il­le­gally. He told of­fi­cials the mem­bers con­duct­ing the scheme would take drugs to some­one well spo­ken within a cell block and trade their ser­vices in the con for the drugs.

So un­der­stand­ing what groups are do­ing in­side of pris­ons and jails across the state and lo­cally is one way to cur­tail their op­er­a­tions. One very spe­cific way that Reynolds and his col­leagues with the De­part­ment of Correction­s is try­ing to stop is con­tra­band get­ting into prison, es­pe­cially cell and smart­phones that pro­vide in­come

and com­mu­ni­ca­tion for gang mem­bers within a prison.

The cost of an older cell phone for a av­er­age pris­oner smug­gled in is around $1,500 to $1,800, and a smart­phone is around $3,000 and up based on the model. That’s not in­clud­ing the monthly ser­vice con­tract.

It doesn’t help the smug­gling of con­tra­band into fa­cil­i­ties con­tin­ues with new and in­ven­tive schemes. Some have uti­lized food through prison kitchens to get in drugs, weapons and phones. Lately the De­part­ment of Correction­s is seeing a great uptick in the use of drones to de­liver goods to in­mates.

“When Lit­tle Billy from Rock­mart is locked up, he be­comes a gang mem­ber on steroids,” Reynolds said. “Mem­bers will still co­or­di­nate their en­ter­prises out on the street. We have a say­ing and a strong be­lief that what­ever is go­ing on in the pris­ons is go­ing to trans­late what is go­ing on in the streets.”

Gang mem­bers are also mov­ing into reg­u­lar life, Reynolds re­ported.

He cited at least two ex­am­ples of mem­bers of law en­force­ment who also turned out to be deep within gangs, as well as one case of an ele­men­tary school teacher who was later ar­rested and in­dicted in the slay­ing of two teenagers mis­tak­enly killed and thought to be a younger gang mem­ber who had stolen weapons and sold them on his own.

One spe­cific case within the De­part­ment of Correction­s saw Reynolds fac­ing a man claim­ing not to be a gang mem­ber de­spite his cloth­ing choices and tat­toos on his body that painted a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. Reynolds said af­ter a lengthy interview he even­tu­ally got the prison guard to ad­mit his af­fil­i­a­tion, and later the man re­signed from the prison where he worked.

As gang ac­tiv­ity con­tin­ues to rise on the state and lo­cal level, of­fi­cials are work­ing to­ward get­ting a han­dle on the prob­lem via ed­u­ca­tion and ac­tion.

The Polk County Sher­iff’s Of­fice is one of the agen­cies lead­ing the way on a lo­cal level to get a grip on gangs in Polk County. Chief Deputy Jonathan Black­mon, who helped or­ga­nize the brief­ing for com­mu­nity lead­ers last week, said that sev­eral deputies and jail­ers have al­ready com­pleted train­ing in the ar­eas of iden­ti­fy­ing and val­i­dat­ing types of gangs and gang ac­tiv­ity, and are do­ing more than just that.

“In the near fu­ture Polk Sher­iff’s Of­fice will have a Gang Task Force Hotline to han­dle ques­tions or anony­mous calls in re­gards to gang ac­tiv­ity,” he said.

Ad­di­tion­ally, they plan to host another gang brief­ing much this past ses­sion to help ed­u­cate a broader group of cit­i­zens in Polk County.

“Our goal is to work ag­gres­sive in iden­ti­fy­ing, track­ing gang mem­bers and pros­e­cut­ing for crimes that they com­mit,” Black­mon said.

More than 90 of­fi­cials from around the county at­tend­ing the brief­ing last week, Black­mon said. He added his thanks to those who par­tic­i­pated, and asked for help from the com­mu­nity at large in pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance in cur­tail­ing gangs from con­tin­u­ing to spread through­out the cities and county area.

kevin Myrick

Dar­rell Reynolds, a state in­ves­ti­ga­tor with the De­part­ment of Correction­s who spe­cial­izes in gangs, talked about the dif­fer­ent groups op­er­at­ing within the state found in state cus­tody.

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