LaGrange council gets update on crime, gang activity

LaGRANGE – Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar spoke to LaGrange City Council on Tuesday regarding recent gang-related events and what the police department is doing about them.

With recent homicides still fresh on everyone’s minds, LaGrange’s chief of police delivered a report to LaGrange’s city council regarding the progress of investigations and what is being done about local gangs.

“We had a home invasion and a homicide Thanksgiving weekend, and a little over a week ago we had the shooting incident at the LaGrange High (parking lot) and a homicide in another part of the city,” said Dekmar. “We’ve identified and arrested or have pending warrants on 14 individuals.”

Of those identified, Dekmar noted that several were from out of town.

“Interestingly, the folks that are responsible for the first incident came from Marietta and the folks responsible for the second incident are from West Point,” said Dekmar. “I suspect that we will probably have a couple more warrants with the investigations continuing.”

According to Dekmar, the other agencies involved have worked well with the LaGrange police, and because of the identification of the subject from Marietta, it was possible for the Marietta Police Department to close a cold case homicide from more than a decade ago. Dekmar credited the hard-working officers who canceled their own holiday plans to follow up on leads immediately following the incidents with the successful identifications and thanked the council for its support.

“It is so critical that shortly after these events that you maximize all the leads that you have, and as a result of doing that, we were able to identify numerous suspects despite the fact that we didn’t have any immediate eye witnesses, and that was just through the development of certain technological opportunities that we have,” said Dekmar. “… And if we had not captured that, it would have been very difficult, I think to solve these.”

The incidents this year are part of a larger problem, but Dekmar told the council he felt good about the progress the department has made to combat gangs since the issue first became apparent.

“We’ve had four homicides this year,” said Dekmar. “Three of those homicides were gang-related. Three or four years ago we first became aware of this national initiative where urban gangs started organizing in medium and smaller cities, so we started several initiatives. I think the year (2013 or 2014) it became very clear that we had somewhere between 58 and 60 gang-related shootings. So far this year, I believe we’ve had 17, so we’ve seen a decrease.

“As long as we’ve got gangs, it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one that I feel like based on resources that’ve been provided by (city) council and the various initiatives that the police department has been involved in – both as it relates to investigations and technology, but also with the outreach in the community ­– we are in a much better position than regretfully a lot of communities that are going through this.”

LaGrange City Council has been supportive of the LaGrange Police Department in the past by approving additional officers and funding for technology for the department.

“Two years ago the council approved four additional officers, and this past year the council approved five additional officers and also agreed to fund a portion of the prosecutor with the district attorney’s office, so council has been very supportive of these efforts,” said Mayor Jim Thornton. “And it sounds like some of these are paying dividends.”

Dekmar specifically credited programs like the Boys & Girls Club and other programs at the former Cannon Street School with serving youth – especially at risk youth – to keep kids out of bad situations through prevention instead of when “it is already too late” when the police are arresting them,” he said.

“Everything we do on the prevention side – on the intervention side – has more significance of an impact then the – I think almost 200 gang cases that we’ve made in the last three or four years,” said Dekmar.

Several council members expressed their appreciation to the police department for working hard to find a timely resolution to the case, but those who died as a result of the incidents were not forgotten either.

“I just want to thank you all for your group being so quick and finding these people, and if you would convey my appreciation to them for… that,” said Councilman Willie Edmondson. “This is the second child within six months that this lady (Vinikka Tucker) has buried. She has no more children, and it is just so sad just to see the hurt from this family… so thank you so much, I’m sure the family appreciates it.”

Tucker’s son, Devan Tucker, was shot in front of her Newnan Street home a mere week before Christmas. Her other son, D’Vonte Tucker, was shot on East 14th Street in West Point in May.

The “Flower Street” residents that comprise the neighborhood near Granger Park have organized a meeting in the LaGrange Police Department training room on Thursday, Jan. 5 at 5 p.m. to discuss the gang shootings. The meeting may be relocated to council chambers depending on turnout.

Reach Alicia B. Hill at alicia.hill@lagrangenews.com or at 706-884-7311, Ext. 2154.