The director of Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), Vernon Keenan offered the LaGrange Rotarians an overview of what the agency is responsible for, highlighting the principle functions of the bureau’s three main divisions.
LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar introduced Keenan to the group outlining the director’s major contributions to the bureau and to law enforcement.
“I can tell you that Vernon has been a real visionary in professional law enforcement and is a real asset to the state of Georgia,” Dekmar said.
Dekmar also gave Keenan credit for recognizing that law enforcement deals routinely with people who suffer with mental illness and therefore has made it possible to have 5,000 of the 30,000 Georgia law enforcement officers trained in crisis intervention. Dekmar stated that all of the LaGrange officers have gone through 40 hours of training in deescalating such situations.
While attending Valdosta State University, Keenan originally started out to become a history teacher and then changed his major to criminal justice. In 1972, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree. In 1997, Keenan received his master’s degree in public administration from Columbus State University through the Georgia Chiefs of Police Command College. He is also a graduate of the 117th Session of the FBI Academy in June, 1979.
After serving as a patrolman with the DeKalb County Police Department, Keenan joined the GBI in 1973 and was appointed to the director’s position in 2003 by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Keenan explained that the GBI is a separate agency that does investigative work and provides assistance to local law enforcement agencies. He then went on to identify and explain the three divisions of the agency.
“One of the biggest changes that I have seen in my 40 years at GBI is the awareness of the value of forensic science to law enforcement and prosecution,” Keenan said. “Laboratories use to be an after thought, now they are essential.”
The bureau’s Division of Forensic Science, commonly known as the GBI Crime Laboratory, has its central location in Atlanta with another six regional laboratories throughout the state. The crime lab handles 100,000 cases a year, with 3,000 autopsies being completed by the laboratory’s 14 certified board forensic pathologists.
“The lab is a full-service facility with the most important tool in investigation being DNA,” Keenan said. “In 1986 , when we first started using DNA we had only one scientist, now DNA evidence is absolutely required in all cases.”
“Every person who commits a felony in Georgia has a DNA sample taken and it is then entered into the DNA database,” Keenan said. “The DNA database is part of the GBI’s Crime Information Center. It has been used to solve 3,500 cold-cases.”
The Georgia Crime Information Center is a division of the bureau which all law enforcement agencies use for their communication. The center uses 32 databases and contains 3.7 million records. It is the chief provider of criminal justice information in Georgia. Sex offender information is a part of this system which is accessible to the general public. Keenan stated that there are 24,000 registered sex offenders in Georgia.
The Investigation Division is the third and largest of the GBI divisions. The GBI has 15 regional offices that specialize in criminal investigation plus specialized work units.
“Our absolute number one priority in the GBI in investigations is violent crimes against children,” Keenan said. “Every one of our field offices has agents who are trained and equipped to handle child abuse cases, child sexual assaults.”
One of the specialized work units is the GBI task force on Internet crime against children. Over 160 agencies across Georgia work together to address child pornography. The LaGrange Police Department is an active part of this task force.
“Three years in a row this task force has been number one in the nation for the number of arrests made for manufacturing, possession and distribution of child pornography,” Keenan said. “We are number one not because Georgia has the most child pornography, but that we don’t tolerate it. We aggressively pursue these types of cases.”
Keenan expressed concern over the increase in the number of cases involving violence against law enforcement officers that the bureau is dealing with.
Throughout the presentation Keenan had high praise for the LaGrange Police Department and District Attorney Peter Skandalakis. Keenan also said that he looks forward to working with Troup County Sheriff, James Woodruff.
Further information on the Georgia Bureau of Investigation may be found on their website at htpp://gbi.georgia.gov.