JONESBORO — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says a statewide database of more than 17,000 gang members and associates is now online and operational — and the Morrow Police Department is one of the first agencies to try it out.
The Georgia Criminal Street Gang Database, or GCSGD, is a joint effort of the GBI, Department of Community Supervision and Georgia Department of Corrections. The statewide database contains information about criminal street gangs, their members and activities, as well as “associates” of gang members in the database, according to the GBI.
GBI Director Vic Reynolds said, “We are proud of this collaborative effort to provide a repository on gangs around the state. Gangs don’t abide by city or county boundaries. With this statewide database operational, law enforcement across jurisdictional lines will be able to work together more efficiently and effectively to tie cases together to make Georgia safer.”
GBI Anti-Gang Task Force head Jaret Usher said, “The Georgia Assembly has told us that every person has the right to be secure and protected from fear, intimidation, physical harm caused by violent groups and individuals... In Georgia, we’re in a state of crisis, created by criminal street gangs. So that’s the backdrop to what has brought us to this Georgia Criminal Street Gang Database.” The GCSCD was authorized by state law in 2010.
How do people get into the database? According to Usher, conviction for a criminal street gang offense will do it. Other criteria for entering someone in the database include any two of the following:
♦ tattoos or markings
♦ hand signs or gestures
♦ symbols or graffiti
♦ terminology and/or language
♦ wearing or possessing criminal street gang dress or clothing
♦ writings, documents or publications
♦ being an affiliate to a criminal street gang member or associate
♦ social media or electronic communications
♦ information from a reliable source
♦ criminal street gang arrest, criminal street gang activity arrest or criminal street gang activity involvement
Law enforcement officials hope that, by sharing information across jurisdictions, they will be better able to track down and bring tougher cases against gang members who cross city and county lines to commit crimes.
Morrow Police Chief Jimmy Callaway, who also is president of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association, recently testified about gang activity at a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly. Callaway said a GGIA survey found 71,000 gang members statewide, including “associates” or “validated gang members.”
“Some people want to dispute those numbers in the media, some people accept those numbers, but we did show our work,” Callaway said. “We took numbers of people that were currently incarcerated in the Georgia Department of Corrections, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice and currently on probation, and that number alone was close to 30,000 people.” To those figures, Callaway added surveys the group had done.
“FBI statistics show that there’s 50,000, just in the metro Atlanta area alone, and we know the numbers from DeKalb and Fulton and even here in Clayton County. We do recognize and we have recognized for years that gangs are an issue here in Clayton County, and we have been working tirelessly with the sheriff’s office, with the Clayton County Police Department, as well as with the different cities in the county, to share intelligence, to share information on cases, and really doing a really good job here in Clayton County. I can say for sure that our judicial system in this county is far above the knowledge level, when it comes to dealing with these types of cases, than most courts are.”
When someone is arrested in Georgia, Callaway said, they go through a security threat group screening process. “You have experts at the intake level that look at tattoos, that know what questions to ask, they have a form they fill out and they validate them at that point. Now a lot of times, there’s self-admission. When they go through the intake process, you ask somebody, ‘Are you a member of a gang?’, they’re proud of it. They’ll tell you. ‘I’m a Rolling 60s Crip,’ or ‘I’m 9 Trey Blood’ or whatever the case may be. And they will gladly give you that information and show tattoos and things like that.”
Photos of tattoos are added to intelligence files and, “At that point, they’re validated as a gang member,” Callaway said. Each month, DOC issues a “release sheet” that shows police what county into which an inmate has been released. “And it’s an eye-opening thing for them at that point,” he said, “because they might not have known that four validated Ghost Face gang members have been released into their rural mountain county.”
While proponents hope the database will help link gang activity across jurisdictions, critics question whether similar criteria in other states could pose constitutional threats. For example, if a gang adopts a particular sports team’s jersey and colors, and someone who is not a gang member wears that jersey or colors and has researched gang activity online, that could fulfill two criteria on the list without the person actually being a gang affiliate or having committed a crime.