Atlanta police say new approach to targeting gangs is getting results

ATLANTA — Atlanta police are taking out dozens more warrants for gang charges than they had at this time last year and one ranking officer says it is saving lives.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne learned APD also has two top investigators from the west coast cradle of gangs in town this week.

Atlanta police special enforcement commander Ralph Woolfolk said this time last year, Atlanta police had secured 69 warrants for gang charges. As of Sunday, for this year, APD has issued 108 gang warrants.

He said this makes communities safer to work, live and play in and he has no doubt it has saved lives.

“We’re showing a 56% increase in our gang warrants this year and all of that just as part of the comprehensive plan that we’ve had in eradicating gang activity here in the city of Atlanta,” Woolfolk said.

Woolfolk said the gang crisis in Atlanta warranted a new approach.

“We know that this is a crisis. We understand the nature of the problem,” Woolfolk said.

He told Winne that this year the number of arrest warrants for violating the state gang law taken out through APD has increased by more than 56% as of July 24 in significant part because of a new focus.

“The increase in gang warrants, is it a reflection of increase in gang activity or a reflection of new strategies being used by APD?” Winne asked Woolfolk.

“I’d say it’s a culmination of both,” Woolfolk said.

“What do gangs thrive on?” Winne asked Executive Fulton County District Attorney Mike Carlson.

“Hyperviolent exhibits of force in public,” Carlson said.


Carlson said adding gang charges to other offenses leads to higher bonds and mandatory bond conditions including no contact with other gang members and victims.

He said it also helps with officer and inmate safety in jail and serves notice on gangs that authorities are coming after them.

“We’ve been able to do very well in moving the needle forward in making sure that we are recognizing gang members, recognizing criminal street gang activity,” Woolfolk said.

Woolfolk said as Winne was interviewing him, investigators from APD and other metro departments were at the Georgia World Congress Center where experts from the Los Angeles Police Department and the nearby Inglewood Police Department had been briefing them on two of the most prolific national gangs.

“We’re looking at the indicators of these gangs, the signs of these gangs. We’re just learning all of the gangs that we come in contact day to day in the best way possible,” Woolfolk said.

Woolfolk said the APD-led Operation Heatwave — a summer time initiative to use numbers and police intel to focus on one geographic gang stronghold at a time — is also part of the new gang focus.

And so was a crash course earlier this month on building gang cases given by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s office for investigators from across APD and other departments.

“From an investigative standpoint, what are the three priorities for APD right now?” Winne asked Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton.

“Gangs, guns and drugs,” Hampton said. “Those are the three things that we see that drive violent crime here in Atlanta.”

For balance, Winne also spoke to prominent defense lawyer Manny Arora, who said he’s representing a number of alleged gang members and that gang charges allow prosecutors to bring in a lot of information that might not be admissible in connection with other criminal charges.

Arora said defense lawyers believe the threshold for proving a group is a gang should be higher and said Georgia has a very tough gang statute.


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