Metro’s top law enforcement agencies meet to combat gang activity causing rise in crime across state

ATLANTA — Some of the state’s top law enforcement officials met Monday to tackle one of metro Atlanta’s biggest problems — gangs.

Gangs are blamed for a spike in violence over the last year and can be directly tied to about two dozen murders last summer.

The new Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne that for everyone’s safety she is making gang crimes a top priority.

Willis said the county’s homicide rate went up 69% from 2018 to 2020, with most of the cases happening just last year. She told Winne that 2021 looks like it could be even worse.

“There are too many shootings. Just too many shootings and a lot of them are about gang violence. There are too many robberies and there are too many car break-ins, and we can make a direct connection from those crimes back to gang involvement,” Willis said.

That’s why Willis said she had close to two dozen of her people at a Georgia Gang Investigators Association event to prepare for a battle against other large groups of people: criminal street gangs.

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“I’m taking a hard stance against gangs,” Willis said.

She told Winne that Fulton County experienced a 39% increase in homicides in 2020 compared to 2019.

“That’s not just a percentage, that is human lives lost,” Willis said.

She said there were 183 homicides in 2019 compared to 255 in 2020.

“We are on track to surpass that number this year,” Willis said. “Between about May and we’ll say between October, we can probably attribute maybe 20 of the homicides directly to gang violence.”

Ray Ham with the GGIA said prosecutors and law enforcement officers from the Fulton and Clayton DA’s offices and sheriff’s offices met at the Georgia World Congress Center to talk about best practices in going after gangs.

Speakers included Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.

“There’s a lot of people who are afraid,” Carr said. “What I hear from folks is this: they don’t want gangs in their backyard. They don’t want violent crime in their backyard. But when it is, they just want to know that the cavalry’s coming and there’s a solution,” Carr said.

Clayton County District Attorney Tasha Mosley also spoke.

“I need to understand why they’re being drawn to gangs in elementary and middle school,” Mosley said. “Why is the grooming beginning so young? What are we missing as a community?”

Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said his team at the event included those who work the street and in the jail.

Labat said he’ll soon be setting up the Scorpion Team, a crime-suppression unit focused on violent crime and gangs.

“That is an opportunity for us to stalk the stalkers, if you will,” Labat said.

The sheriff told Winne that he’s using grants for a new rapid-response gang database that officers can access from their phones in seconds.

“It’s time to fight back against gangs and really protect our community,” Labat said.

Mosley told Winne that she’s put a prosecutor in juvenile court specifically for gang crimes. She said her office has had a good gang prosecutor in superior court where adults are tried, but she’s training three more.

Willis said she’s also got a prosecutor as a liaison between juvenile court and her expanded gang unit.