After 2013 proved to be a heavy gang activity year, local law enforcement along with other agencies have formed the Troup County Gang Coordinating Committee in an effort to eradicate street gangs across the county.
Formed in September, the committee is made up representatives from the District Attorney’s office, the LaGrange Police Department, Troup County Sheriff’s Office, Hogansville Police Department and West Point Police Department.
Ray Mayer, prosecutor for the DA’s office representing the committee, said the formation of the committee came after 19 gang-related shootings in town. This number eventually grew to 32 gang-related shootings or beatings by the end of 2013.
Mayer said together these agencies share intelligence and assist each other with gang investigations. The group meets once a month and communicate on a daily basis he said.
“The first thing we want to do is crush the gangs - just flat crush them,” Mayer said. “We are going to send them all to prison.”
Already since its formation, the committee has indicted 14 gang-related cases compared to only five in the 10 years preceding its inception. In the first two months of 2014, there has not been any gang-related shootings, only five gang cases and over 20 guns have been taken off the streets according to Investigator Ray Ham with the LPD Special Investigations Unit.
According to Mayer, the increase of cases indicted is attributed to an effort of law enforcement seeking gang charges on top of crime charges.
Mayer said the secondary focus of the committee is to deter middle school and high school teens from joining gangs.
Ham has made this effort by educating the public. Ham has made 26 presentations to several organizations including schools, churches, community groups and neighborhoods educating them on gang presence and signs to recognize.
Ham said gang activity has been reaching down to middle school and high school teens prompting a focus on educating school staff. Principals have also started reaching out and reporting an increase of students advertising their gang affiliations according to Ham.
“For the most part, the general public just does not know how to respond to criminal street gang whether it be graffiti, should I be afraid of these individuals, should I call 911,” Ham said.
In these cases, Ham said the public should call 911 for any suspicious gang activity.
Ham said 2013 saw a war over turf in a lot of its crimes. Present gangs include both local and national associations such as the bloods and the gangster disciples.
According to Ham, 80 percent of violent crimes in the area can be linked back to street gangs, most of the individuals being aged between 16-25.
“When you can target a group of individuals that band together to commit these violent crimes … those violent crimes are going to go down,” he said.
Ham said there has been a “huge drop” since efforts have been made to actively investigate and lock up gang members.
The committee’s presence and focus on gangs has resulted in a decrease of outward manifestations of members such as clothing and videos displayed on the Internet, according to Ham.
“I have to commend the Troup County School System, specifically each individual principal at our high schools and middle schools because they are becoming intelligent on how to deal with these guys and how to recognize street gang signs [and] clothing,” Ham said, adding that eight months ago, they did not know how to respond.
One problem Ham said he is trying to tackle is preventing the recruitment of teens into street gangs, which he says is the age most members join. He said recruitment effects both boys and girls of all races and socioeconomic status.
Family involvement is attributed as being a significant factor in teens joining gangs according to Ham.
“The biggest challenge we face in dealing with school-aged children is the parental or guardian lack of engagement in that child’s life,” he said.
Ham also identified the glorification of the gang lifestyle as the No. 1 draw for teenagers.
Both Ham and Mayer said since the formation of the committee, the joint efforts among law enforcements have brought a substantial drop in activity and positive results.
“There will continue to be this type of crime, our goal is eradication, our real-life goal is to suppress it and eventually show these people committing these types of crimes that its not going to pay to continue this lifestyle,” Ham said.