Authorities share intel on gang activity

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Top experts on Georgia's gang activity met over doughnuts and coffee Wednesday morning in Lawrenceville to volley names like "Dopey," "Demon" and "King Clumsy" around the room.

Those bits of intelligence, however silly they may sound, can be key in busting major crime syndicates. And this form of networking -- a monthly summit held this week at the Gwinnett Police Training Center -- is a proven method to keep the gang conversation active, officials said.

Hot topics Wednesday included the rise of brash Caribbean gangs in metro Atlanta and the strengthening armaments of Mexican cartels, whose stash houses are being pillaged by unaffiliated gangsters.

Officials from universities like Georgia Tech and Georgia State rubbed elbows with Macon police, Atlanta drug task force members and even reps from the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

This cross-pollination of intelligence is key to keeping up with "bangers" and "associates" who can migrate around the state, said Gwinnett police Cpl. Marco Silva, co-founder and president of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association, a not-for-profit bent on increasing gang awareness.

Its roster includes more than 80 local, state and federal agencies, with a database of 400 police contacts from Valdosta to Rome.

"Anywhere you go, if gangs are not the flavor of the month, you're not going to give it as much attention, and it can get back out there again," Silva said. "We have such a youth population in Georgia -- that's what gangsters look for."

Last year, police identified 90 different operational gangs active in Gwinnett, ranging from national affiliates to loosely structured groups of friends, or "hybrid" gangs.

The initiative pinpointed 1,100 residents who considered themselves gang members -- up slightly from 1,000 recognized members in 2004. Their crimes ranged in severity from magic-marker graffiti to kidnappings and drive-by shootings.

In some cases, Silva said gang loyalty is a thing of the past, as members are "jumping" from sect to sect, sometimes prompting their own deaths.

"It can be dangerous for them," he said.

Silva credits the monthly meetings with helping solve 12 homicides, countless burglaries and robberies and even rapes and molestation cases since its inception 11 years ago.

FBI special agent John Houston, who heads an organized crime and gang squad, attributes the proliferation of gangs in metro Atlanta to three key factors: The area's growing population and location, the influx of illegal immigrants and a booming drug trade.

"Atlanta is a hub," Houston said. "We target the gangs that are the most violent."

Houston cited the Georgia Street Gang Prevention Act as an "extremely powerful" tool in thwarting gangs. The law, enacted in 2006, made even menial crimes like criminal trespass a felony, if it's done in furtherance of a gang.

On a municipal level, three Gwinnett cities -- Lawrenceville, Norcross and Snellville, respectively -- adopted anti-gang ordinances the following year.