By Ed Brock
Representatives of Clayton County's law enforcement agencies came together Friday to discuss the formation of a new task force to address the county's growing problem with gangs.
Henry County Police Chief Henry White also attended the meeting that was held at Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle's office in Jonesboro on Friday morning.
Tuggle and Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain have already committed one officer each to the task force.
"We had already been talking. We knew there was a problem," Tuggle said. "The county sheriff's office can't do it alone. The police department can't do it alone. It has to be a joint effort."
The chiefs of the county's municipal departments will have to check with the mayors of their towns to determine their involvement in the task force so he could not yet give a total number of members of the task force, Tuggle said.
The formation of the task force is inspired in part by a recent gang shootout in Riverdale in which 4-year-old Trevon Wilson was killed by a stray bullet.
Three suspects have been arrested in Wilson's killing, 18-year-old Jenario Clayton of Riverdale, 22-year-old Deontrez Williams of Fayetteville and 16-year-old Xavious Cerdera Taylor. The charges against Clayton were dropped after a preliminary hearing when Magistrate Court Judge Gloria Reed found there was not enough evidence to show that he had fired a weapon in the shootout.
The task force will gather information on gangs in the county and share it among the members, operating in a fashion similar to the county's drug task force. As a result of the meeting Tuggle and the others in attendance have begun devising a plan of action for the task force.
"Really and truly we had to agree on what is a gang," Tuggle said.
They decided that a gang was an organization with a distinct leader and lieutenants involved in criminal behavior. There are also other, more loosely knit organizations that they will call simply "groups."
Tuggle said the group had not yet defined a list of gangs operating in the area.
Also in attendance at the meeting were members of the county's district attorney and solicitor general's offices and the county commission. Tuggle said school administrators and administrators at the county's six planned recreation centers must also be involved in the task force.
"We've got to divert these kids who are going to be gang members to activities that we provide," Tuggle said.
Morrow interim Police Chief Charlie Sewell said he was optimistic about his city's participation in the task force.
"I thought the meeting was good. It was probably overdue," Sewell said. "We will participate on some level."
White said he already has two officers in the Georgia Gang Investigators Association that also allows them to gain information from counties with serious gang problems.
"What we're concerned about is having a proactive program so we won't be in the position of having to chase intelligence," White said.
Riverdale interim Police Chief Greg Barney also attended the meeting but could not be reached for comment.