Gang membership growing in Polk County
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.
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.