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Authorities addressing gang issue

By Ed Brock

ebrock@news-daily.com

A Clayton County Board of Education member is forming a task force to deal with gang violence while the county's sheriff says he wants to expand his own task force.

The actions come in the wake of a fatal shooting at a party Saturday night that has been linked to a gang fight at Mundy's Mill High School the day before. Mundy's Mill senior Larry Bishop Jr., 18, was killed when gunfire erupted during a party at a house on Stillwood Court and three people were injured.

Wendell "Rod" Johnson, a member of the Clayton County Board of Education, said that he is forming a task force to address increasing concerns about gang violence.

The "stop the violence" task force, a group of public officials, law enforcement members, clergy and members of the community, will meet at 7 p.m. May 16 at Divine Faith Church.

"My position is that I'm calling upon all the leaders to stop the violence in the community," Johnson said. "I was very disturbed by the recent killings."

The community needs to "redirect youth and position them to have successful futures," he said.

Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill said his "Cobra" unit has already been investigating both the shooting that killed Bishop and the Friday night shooting at another party that left 14-year-old Crystal Williams dead. He said he plans to expand the Cobra unit to do even more in fighting gang violence.

"Cobra was created as an answer to gangs and drug dealers, anyway," Hill said.

Currently there are six deputies in the unit that is sent in to areas where citizens have complained about crime.

"I want to see Cobra go up to at least 20 people," Hill said.

Hill said he's already spoken to the Clayton County District Attorney's Office and Solicitor General's Office about adding officers to the unit and he hopes to include officers from the county police department and municipal departments. Once he deputizes him, Hill said, those officers would be able to work in different jurisdictions.

"We will restore order to this county," Hill said.

Riverdale Assistant Police Chief Samuel Patterson said he would welcome any opportunity to do something about the gang violence that impacts his city as well as the other municipalities in the county. His department had considered creating its own task force, but now they are interested in joining the school board's task force.

"There's no sense in reinventing the wheel," Patterson said. "If there's a county-wide task force we would like to have access to that."

Riverdale has also started extra patrols at Travon Wilson Park, the city's baseball park on Church Street that was recently renamed for the 4-year-old boy who was killed there by a stray bullet from a gang shootout. That will include a "park and walk" patrol seven days a week, the presence of sheriff's deputies on Fridays and Saturdays and a civilian supervisor on Sundays.

On Saturday Forest Park police kicked off their "Targeting Against Gang Graffiti" program in which youthful offenders are sentenced to paint over the graffiti drawn by gangs to mark territory.

"Everything went faster than expected," Forest Park Police Capt. Chris Matson said.

Eight "taggers" were brought out Saturday to paint over the graffiti on the sides of Crumbley Tire Center on Main Street, Matson said. The program will be held every Saturday, weather permitting, and the paint used to cover the graffiti is designed to allow future graffiti to be washed away easily.

The Clayton County Police Department is continuing its "Operation Strategic Methods Against Street Harm" that targets criminal activity around the county's schools, Clayton County Police Capt. Chris Matson said. Also, the department's student resource officers include gang intelligence officers and the Special Operations Unit also deals with gang activity.

Robinson said he had no information on Hill's Cobra unit.

Staff writer Greg Gelpi contributed to this article.