County's new gang task force gets down to business

By Justin Boron

Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said children should "stay focused on their work and their future" while a regional gang task force works to resolve drug and violence crime in the county's latest effort to mitigate the growing problem.

His comments came Wednesday during the first meeting of a gang task force including about 40 officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, FBI, and several other local law enforcement departments.

The meeting, held at Clayton County Police headquarters, was not open to the public because law enforcement officials said sensitive intelligence information would be discussed.

But Bell spoke with reporters outside the meeting, providing a glimpse at how the organizational structure of the group would pan out.

The "blue print" for the group would predominantly be determined by its members and the community's needs, he said.

"It will take on what shape it needs to take," he said.

The group will be divided into several sections including a faith-based committee, an education committee, an education committee, and a law enforcement committee.

Bell said he asked the FBI to facilitate the group's operation, which may be able to use federal grants.

He also said most of the task force's funding would be worked into the current day-to-day budgets of its participants.

A string of violence and killings has renewed the attention to the county's gang problems and brought about the formation of the task force.

Krystal Williams, 14, was killed in a shooting April 22.

Larry Bishop Jr.,18, was killed the following night at another party. Police say they believe the shooting was retaliation for a gang squabble at Mundy's Mill High School in Jonesboro.

Bell admits the existence of a task force is nothing new.

But he insists a more "holistic" approach would last. "This is not a temporary task force," he said.

Former Sheriff Stanley Tuggle headed up a task force before he left office. Bad blood between Sheriff Victor Hill and him led to the group's dissolution.

Another recently formed task force, this one organized by the Clayton County District Attorney's Office, Sheriff's Office, Solicitor General's Office and Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske, also met Wednesday at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center in Jonesboro.

District Attorney Jewel Scott said that task force was formed before Bell's task force, but they are cooperating with one another and Scott's task force had a representative at the meeting of Bell's task force.

"We decided to keep our group because it goes beyond law enforcement," Scott said. "We're dealing with community issues."

Several public officials have joined the task force, including Forest Park City Councilwoman Debbie Youmans and former Forest Park City Councilwoman Corine Deyton. There are around 40 people in the task force and it continues to grow, Scott said.

News Daily staff writer Ed Brock contributed to this article.