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GBI expands gang task force

Union-Recorder - 9/7/2020

Sep. 4--MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds delivered a strong message Thursday morning to those involved in criminal gang violence in Milledgeville and Baldwin County, as well as Macon-Bibb County.

"We hope to lock up as many criminal street gang members as possible," Reynolds said of the newly expanded gang task force unit launched by the GBI last year. "We've seen statistics year-in and year-out by the FBI that indicate to us that the majority of jurisdictions in the United States -- be it rural, suburban, or urban areas, that criminal street gangs are responsible for anywhere between 48 to 90 percent of violent crimes."

Those kinds of crimes include murders, sexual crimes, human trafficking, and drug trafficking.

"All of this is connected to these criminal street gangs, and our job as law enforcement officers, is to stop it," Reynolds said. "My ultimate goal here, and I think I speak for these ladies and gentlemen behind me is to investigate, arrest, prosecute and incarcerate as many criminal street gang members as we can.

Reynolds, who was appointed the new director of the GBI in February 2019 by Gov. Brian Kemp, said one of the first charges given him by the governor was to make sure that the state law enforcement agency aggressively pursue criminal street gangs throughout the state.

"Based on upon that in the spring of 2019, we put together the first GBI Gang Task Force," Reynolds told reporters and area law enforcement officers outside the front entrance of the GBI Region 6 Office in Milledgeville.

The GBI's Gang Task Force, based in Atlanta, hit the ground running as they worked cases throughout the metro-Atlanta area, as well as in North Georgia area, Reynolds recalled.

"They have been extremely busy in the last 16 or 17 months they've been working," Reynolds said of those assigned to the new task force. "But as we all know and learned, if we didn't know it initially, that criminal street gangs aren't just confined to metropolitan areas. They're everywhere. They're in suburban areas. They're in rural areas. So, based upon that, this task force has to grow and it has to expand."

Reynolds said he was pleased to announce that the GBI Gang Task Force will be expanded into the middle Georgia areas of Milledgeville and Baldwin County, as well as Macon-Bibb County.

The newly expanded task force in the two counties will consist of four special agents. The unit will be supervised by GBI Special Agent Joshua Ayer, who has most recently served as assistant special agent in-charge of the Region 6 office in Milledgeville.

Ayer will be the point-person of the task force in middle Georgia. Special Agent Ken Howard heads up the state's gang task force.

"Josh will [be] boots on the ground in charge here in middle Georgia," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said one of the most important things to remember about the task force is that it will be a renewal and strengthening of their partnerships with local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors he contends are the backbone of the criminal justice system throughout the state.

"The reason we're making this announcement in this area is because of the tremendous work that's already been done by local law enforcement officials," Reynolds said.

The GBI director mentioned local officials who have been doing what they can to curtail criminal gang violence. They included Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee, as well as Macon-Bibb County Sheriff David Davis and Twiggs County Sheriff Darren Mitchum, along with Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord and Eatonton Police Chief Kent Lawrence, Commander Wesley Nunn with the Ocmulgee Drug Task Force, and Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley.

"We are honored, and I speak on behalf of the entire bureau, that they are gracious enough to partner with us so we can in fact be that force multiplier to make sure that we can pursue these gangs throughout -- not only the northern part of the state and metro-Atlanta area of the state -- but in middle Georgia and south Georgia as well," Reynolds said. "I just want the people of this area to know, along with the partners standing behind me that the GBI looks forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our local partners to make sure that we commit ourselves again to stopping these criminal street gangs, and the havoc they wreak throughout all our communities in this great state."

In Georgia, there are an estimated 71,000 criminal gang members, authorities say.

Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee talked about the new partnership with the GBI.

"We are extremely pleased to be in a new partnership with the GBI and their office here in Milledgeville," Massee said. "Many of you people in the media, as well as the public, realize the tremendous acts of violence, drug problems and other issues that have been directly related to or caused by gangs -- not only in Baldwin County but throughout middle Georgia."

Massee said at times, local law enforcement officers had been overwhelmed with the number of shootings in Milledgeville and Baldwin County.

"We've actively worked those kinds of cases and now we're extremely pleased to have the GBI coming in here and joining us and establishing a new partnership with us," Massee said.

The sheriff was joined at the event by Detective Capt. Brad King, who heads the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigation Division, and Detective Haley Beckham.

Macon-Bibb County Sheriff David Davis echoed Massee's sentiment.

"In Bibb County, we already have some great partnerships with our federal partners, FBI, DEA, ATF, and some of our regional law enforcement agencies in the area," Davis said. "But this partnership -- and I want to thank Director Reynolds for his leadership and Gov. Kemp for that focus on criminal street gangs."

Davis pointed out that gang members know nothing about county boundaries. And they know nothing about city boundaries.

Davis said there is no way that local law enforcement authorities can curtail gang violence without partnerships.

"We cannot do it without these resources that our federal and now the state partners bring to us -- that partnership of sharing information, resources and personnel to know we all are united and that we all are going across county lines and city limits to go after these street gangs," Davis said.

He said the goal is to make all streets and neighborhoods safer in middle Georgia.

"We want to run these bad people out of these areas, and run them into the prisons where they belong," Davis said.

Twiggs County Sheriff Darren Mitchum, who also serves as chairman of the board for the Ocmulgee Drug Task Force, which is based in Milledgeville, said he, too, is appreciative of the new partnership.

"I'm very pleased and happy to see again that we've got more partners coming in with the gang force initiative," Mitchum said.

Mitchum said trying to round up criminal gang members is a 24-hour, seven-day effort.

"What this does is to make our footprint a lot bigger than what we already have with our other state and federal partners," Mitchum said. "The networking relationship with everybody that you see here and more is what makes that possible to make it work."

Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord also spoke about the new partnership.

"We have definitely seen our share of violence from the gangs here in Milledgeville," Swicord said. "Thank you Director Reynolds for being here at Region 6. We look forward to the partnership with this group of people. I'm just very thankful to be part of it."

"This is a great idea," said District Attorney Bradley. "We're real pleased. We have shown through our many jurisdictions that the more law enforcement can work together and coordinate their efforts, the more effective the results are. And so any assistance that we can get from the state and the GBI is great."

Bradley said it is a step in the right direction.

"We're glad to have them and I know they are going to help us in assisting and coordinating efforts to get the best possible outcome," said Bradley.

Asked whether the GBI's new gang violence task force would now mean that more of these types of cases would be prosecuted on the state level as opposed to the federal level, Bradley said every case is different.

"We look at it from the standpoint that if the feds have the greater ability to get the appropriate results, then we'll let them deal with it," Bradley said. "Most crimes, certainly most violent crimes is what is terrorizing some of our local neighborhoods with really nice folks in them. Those are state violations and they will be prosecuted by the D.A.'s office."


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