Although there are national and Georgia-wide gang problems, few are specific to the Northlake area, DeKalb County law enforcement officials said Thursday.
The biggest problems in the Northlake area are related to burglary and entering auto, according to Major L. Higdon with the DeKalb County Police Department. The central precinct, which includes Northlake, has the lowest number of crimes in the county, he said. Detective Sgt. Charlie Lyda agreed.
“You are probably not going to see roving packs of gang members in your area,” Lyda said to Northlake residents at a meeting of the Northlake Community Alliance.
He did caution that gang members can travel but said most violence is gang-on-gang violence, not incidents involving innocent bystanders.
Michael Carson, DeKalb County’s deputy assistant district attorney, discussed gang matters in relation to Georgia’s Gang Act, a state law passed in 2006. He stressed the importance of the act, which makes it easier to prosecute gang members and to ensure they do not contact fellow members while on bond or probation.
The act allows for flexible sentencing and the use of related gang activity as evidence, Carson said. To charge someone with a violation of the act, the defendant, gang and crime must be connected.
Carson said Georgia does have a multifaceted gang problem affecting much of the state, not just the urban areas. Gangs are moving into suburban areas primarily because those counties tend to not have special police task forces to deal with gangs—DeKalb does have a task force—and because real estate is more affordable. Older and more experienced gang members from cities like Chicago and Los Angeles are moving to Georgia. Cross-border gang activity means that gangs spread to Central America and back to the United States.
The FBI found in 2009 there are more than a million gang members nationwide, an increase of more than 200,000 since 2005. In some areas, gangs commit 80 percent of the reported crimes. In the Southeast, there are more than 9,800 gangs with more than 172,000 members. Carson stressed that gang members are defined as those who have committed crimes.
Carson cited statistics from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement showing that Atlanta is second in the country in terms of arresting undocumented immigrants involved in gangs. The Southeastern division of the country, including Georgia, is second only to California and Nevada for reporting gang activity.
Georgia’s Gang Act has been particularly effective in DeKalb County. There have been more than 90 Gang Act convictions in the county since its inception, Carson said. DeKalb has also seen a 30 percent decrease in armed robberies, a 46 percent decrease in homicides and the practical silencing of two rival gangs that once engaged in violent fights.
Lyda also gave a presentation in which he detailed some national and local gangs, plus the ways gang members identify themselves through things like clothing, symbols and writing. He mentioned graffiti, explaining that gang-related graffiti is usually low-quality and uses just one color of paint. Later, he advised residents who spot gang-related graffiti should call the police because sometimes the graffiti has messages about the gang that can be read by a trained officer.
The officers stressed community vigilance in regards to any possible gang activity.