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A growing problem
Statesboro, Bulloch law enforcement agencies address increasing gang activity
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Report suspected gang activity
Call the Statesboro Police Department at (912) 764-9911, or the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office at (912) 764-8888.

        Reports of graffiti, increased crime and the arrests of suspects with admitted gang connections have local law enforcement keeping a close eye on a growing problem.
        Whether suspects are involved in “wannabe” gangs or have established links to true gangs, the mentality, behavior and results are often the same, Statesboro police Cpl. Justin Samples said.
        “‘Wannabe’ gangs can pose just as much of a risk as a legitimized gang, especially if they are attempting to gain official status,” he said. “Also, by publicly minimizing a gang’s status, it can be taken as a challenge to prove themselves.”
        The influence of real gangs is here, regardless of whether a person is actually linked to an established gang or is simply imitating gang behavior, Bulloch County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jared Akins said.
        “We have seen local groups of individuals who brand themselves a particular name and commit crimes, but these groups don’t necessarily belong to a larger, more organized gang as the term is understood by the public,” he said. “Recently, we have worked cases and made arrests of individuals who have either admitted to membership in one of the more recognizable national gangs or who we can prove through circumstantial evidence are members of such groups.”
        Statesboro police investigated 14 incidents labeled as “gang activity” or “participating in a street gang” between April and June this year, Samples said. While most cases were about graffiti, one also involved theft of a vehicle. One incident involved a fight, and another was regarding threats made over the Internet.
        All were cleared by arrest except for the fight incident and one graffiti case, he said.
       “The fight investigation was terminated at the request of the victim,” Samples said. “The offenders were predominately juveniles.”
        Akins said sheriff’s office cases linked to gang activity have not involved crime done in the name of any certain gang, but committed by suspects who also had gang connections.
        “Since the state passed O.C.G.A. (statute) 16-15-4, which criminalized participating in criminal gang activity, our agency has used the charge” in several incidents, he said.
        The most recent case linked to gangs was the arrest of Anthony Lamar Brown, 25, of Wilma Brown Road in Bulloch County, with a Register mailing address. He was taken into custody June 25 on Pulaski Road.
        Deputies stopped to question Brown about thefts in the area after a caller reported him as being suspicious. While being questioned, Brown reached for a gun in his waistband. Further investigation revealed the pistol had  been stolen from an area residence, and the bicycle he was riding had also been stolen. Brown was found to be a member of the Gangster Disciples, a well-known gang founded in Chicago.
        The Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office also investigated a series of burglaries and motor vehicle thefts in Portal in 2009, which was linked to gang membership and resulted in four arrests, Akins said. Before that, in 2007 and 2008, four people who were arrested on burglary charges were found to have gang connections, he said.
        Also, an armed robbery and subsequent murder earlier this year resulted in five suspects arrested. The case has gang connections, Akins said. He did not specify the location of the murder or identify the people involved, so as to preserve the integrity of the investigation while the case proceeds through the judicial system.
        “In none of the … incidents were the suspects committing the crimes specifically because of gang membership or directed in any way that we can see by gang leadership,” he said. “Rather, they were criminals committing criminal acts who just so happened to claim affiliation with a group that fits the definition of a gang.”
        This year isn’t the first time Statesboro police have investigated gang activity, Samples said. The incidents in the past “for various reasons … did not generate gang-related charges.  Other incidents such as thefts, robberies, and assaults where the victim and/or the offender had alleged gang affiliations, the incidents were not shown to be contingent on the affiliations.”
        Local law enforcement has stepped up the pace recently, as many gang-related incidents seem to become more prevalent when school is out for the summer, he said.
        “In previous years, reported gang activity increased during the months when school breaks for the summer.  With a similar increase in activity this year, the Statesboro Police Department and Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office are collaborating in an effort reduce crime in the community and to more efficiently track intelligence information in reference to gang activity and gang affiliations,” Akins said.
        Working together, “The Statesboro-Bulloch Crime Suppression Team will play a primary role in tracking and reducing gang activity in the city and county,” Akins added.
        Most of the gang-related activity can be traced back to suspects who do not live in Bulloch County, he added.
        “In large part, suspects claiming formal membership to groups such as the Bloods, Gangster Disciples, etc., have moved to this area from larger cities, particularly in our experience, Augusta,” Akins said.
        While there have been no reports of direct gang activity in the area, except graffiti, the potential is there and law enforcement officers are collaborating to raise awareness and prevent a serious problem from occurring, he said.
        “In our collaborative efforts to fight all types of crime in Statesboro and Bulloch County, the Crime Suppression Team has been tasked with setting up a system of tracking criminal gang activity,” Akins said. “An investigator will use several different approaches to gather this information: information from patrol, from detectives and investigators from both agencies, information from jail bookings, tips from citizens, field contacts by members of the Crime Suppression Team during their normal proactive sweeps, and information provided by (the probation and parole offices).”
        The database will be accessible to all law enforcement agencies that request information from it and will hopefully allow both police officers and sheriff’s deputies to make connections while working cases that might not seem apparent without the database, Akins said.
        If a certain area seems to generate more criminal or suspected gang activity, “extra street-level enforcement resources” will be added and officers will “make as many arrests as is necessary to lower crime rates in those areas,” Akins said.
        “We don’t want to make it seem like this community is Los Angeles waiting to happen, but at the same time we’ve got to recognize early that street crime and gang ties are a coming thing,” he said. “We’re sandwiched between Savannah and Augusta, and both of those areas have seen those kinds of problems. Also, with the large student population from all over the U.S., new people bring pieces of where they come from with them, good and bad. What we want to do is work together and get out in front of the issue if we can.”
        According to www.gangfree.org, teens and even younger children who join or emulate gangs do so for several reasons, including boredom, lack of job availability, poverty and social isolation, domestic violence, negative peer networks, poor school performance and lack of parental supervision.
        Gang involvement also provides members with “a sense of family” and excitement, and is attractive because of a desire for protection, a family history of gang activity, and offers an opportunity to be perceived as “cool” by their peers, according to the site.
        In 2010, www.psychologytoday.com published data showing a marked increase in gang activity across the United States.
        “Reports show that gangs are present in every state in the U.S., where in 1970 they existed in less than half of all states,” the site says. “To date, there are approximately, 24,500 known youth gangs with about 772,500 youth members. That's about 7 percent of the U.S.’s teen population,” according to the site.
        Signs a teen could be involved in gang activity include a significant change in clothing, especially a penchant to wear the same colors; gang-style graffiti on books, notebooks and other belongings; changes in friends; a decreased interest in positive social activities; having money and expensive items without a job or legitimate money source; and secretive behavior, according to information from the website.
        Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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