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Police plan to gang up on crime

LAWRENCEVILLE - Come Saturday, Gwinnett police will devote up to 35 officers to tracking street gangs - and the corruption, graffiti and violence they spawn - as part of the force's most comprehensive crackdown on organized crime in recent years.

They call it a new gang enforcement strategy. The initiative will skim three or four officers from the department's existing gang task force, crime suppression unit and community response teams.

The new task force will focus on gang-related activity in known "problem areas" across Gwinnett. The group won't be limited to specific policing districts, cities or even specific gangs, such as the prevalent "Brownside Locos" or "La Raza" gangs, said Gwinnett police spokesman Officer David Schiralli.

The task force's functions will be four-pronged at least: It will concentrate patrols in hotbeds of gang activity, conduct special investigations, gather intelligence and make arrests, Schiralli said.

The group - eventually consisting of between 25 and 35 officers - hits the streets for the first time Saturday. It will remain active as long as it's needed, Schiralli said.

"We're trying a new solution to a problem," he said. "It's not that gang activity is on the rise. We know it' s there, we addressed it, and now we're taking a new approach to it."

The new task force comes on the heels of another initiative - the eight-member "interdiction" unit - launched by Gwinnett police in late January. That unit's primary focus is thwarting drug traffic on Gwinnett's major roadways.

"These are all new ideas we're implementing, trying to attack our problems from a different angle," Schiralli said.

Despite some misconceptions, gang activity in Gwinnett is not a yesteryear nuisance, as is evidenced by recent arrests and violence this year:

n Police blamed two warring gangs for a Jan. 7 incident in Norcross that left a 15-year-old boy hospitalized with gunshot wounds to his shoulder.

n A day later, police arrested a 26-year-old man for stabbing a Norcross man to death for allegedly flashing the hand gestures of a rival gang.

n That same month, Gwinnett police busted seven Hispanic men - most of them "La Raza" affiliates - for gang activity and drug possession at a Lawrenceville home.

Schiralli said evidence of street gangs exists in nearly all Gwinnett cities.

"We have the same problems as any other county in the state," he said. "(The new task force) will give us the opportunity to divide officers into more than one place at a time.

"Whoever associates themselves with a gang and calls themselves a gang member - we'll be looking for them."

Stan Hall, Director of the Victim Witness Program in the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office, applauded the gang crackdown in an online newsletter Monday.

"Gangs are here and they show no sign of leaving on their own," Hall wrote. "They are the driving force behind our crime rates ... they will kill you in a heartbeat."