Channel 2 Action News gets access to Operation Heatwave as police target gangs across city

ATLANTA — The streets of Atlanta are safer thanks to a gang crackdown that’s already showing positive results.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne was the only reporter to hit the streets with officers as they rounded up gang members, guns and drugs.

It had been a summer-spanning, data-driven, Atlanta police-led gang crackdown called Operation Heatwave.

“The operational objective is finding guns, gangs and narcotics,” said Atlanta Police Capt. Ralph Woolfolk.

Woolfolk said the first bust turned up a convicted felon in possession of a gun, which is a crime.

“Did you have a gun you weren’t supposed to have?” Winne asked the suspect.

“No, sir. That was her gun,” the man answered.

Soon after, near a convenience store, ...

“Our undercover officers were in the right space. They got their eyes on the right thing that we’re asking them to: persons doing offenses with guns,” Woolfolk said. “We got a gun, and we got drugs.”


“Did you have a gun and drugs?” Winne asked the second suspect.

“No, sir,” the second suspect replied.

“He is a confirmed PFK; that’s a Play For Keeps gang member,” Woolfolk said.

“Are you in a gang?” Winne asked the second suspect.

“No, sir,” the suspect responded.

Woolfolk said about a half mile radius around that store is a gang stronghold.

“The store’s not alleged to have done anything wrong, but we do know that gang members frequent this location,” Woolfolk said. “In these strongholds, at these convenience stores, these hot locations, they know it’s a high foot traffic (area).”

As Winne travelled between the two scenes, Woolfolk mentioned a homicide in a gang stronghold that same day.

He said investigators used technology to track a stolen red Toyota used in the murder and another shooting days earlier.

“We’ll be utilizing some of our undercover officers and some of the Heatwave personnel to make sure that we try to get on top of that vehicle tonight,” Woolfolk said.

Long after dark in southeast Atlanta, authorities converged on a red Toyota, appearing abandoned and smoking as if someone tried to set it on fire.

“This is a key evidentiary item in that homicide investigation,” Woolfolk said.

Interim Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said the Atlanta Police Department compared crime stats for June 23 through Sept. 15 this year — the time frame for Operation Heatwave — to roughly the same dates last year, and homicides during Operation Heatwave were down 29% compared to the same approximate period last year.

Robberies went down 14%, and persons shot were down 26%.

“You think this is the big difference maker?” Winne asked Schierbaum.

“Oh, we know it is,” Schierbaum said. “I mean, there’s a number of factors at play, but one of the key factors is we’re going after individuals that are prone to harm in our city, and we’re going to areas that we know that they work out of.”

Woolfolk showed Winne several guns that he said came from one Heatwave gang target picked up by other APD units. He said collaboration is key.

Woolfolk said the ATF, the Fulton County sheriffs’ Scorpion Unit, the Fulton County district attorney’s office and the state attorney general’s office have all been key players.

“What we’re doing is, we’re standing inside of a Rolling Crip gang stronghold,” Woolfolk said.

It was the scene of the 2019 gang-related murder of Chad Billingslea.

“(He was) a fixture out there in the neighborhood,” said Fulton County DA investigator Marissa Viverito. “(He was) also a father to several children.”

Viverito told Winne that she has worked with Woolfolk as he used crime data by gang experts and other intelligence to scientifically select a part of Boulevard for the first night of Operation Heatwave.

“Boulevard is also the first arrest location of Operation Heatwave. And we took down in this very parking lot Stinson White as well as Emmanuel Bigby, ... them being high-level Rolling 60s Crip gang members,” Woolfolk said. “These are our communities. These communities don’t belong to Rolling 60s Crips.”

Stenson White’s attorney, Brandon Lewis, told Winne that he’s known White 20 years, and he’s never been in a gang.

Lewis said White’s not guilty of the possession of firearm by convicted felon, gang, and other charges he faces.

Records indicate similar charges against Emmanuel Bigby.

A spokesman said, “Due to the charges levied against him, the Georgia Public Defender Council’s specialized RICO/gang unit represents Mr. Bigby,” but he said they can’t comment on the allegations yet.