CARROLLTON — Three west Georgia law enforcement agencies will work together to create an online database to track and combat gang violence.
LaGrange and Carrollton police departments, along with the Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office have pledged a total of $50,000 to invest in the software with an additional $10,000 from each agency yearly to maintain the program.
Another $50,000 was pledged in a grant from the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of the State of Georgia.
“This is a web-based program that’s been piloted by Atlanta police departments,” said Carrollton police investigator J.J. Cole. “This is designed to be a living, breathing, agency-specific database that will help our agencies work together to keep track of potential evidence which can be used for prosecution and court purposes.”
Cole said the database will allow officers to organize known gang members and affiliates according to specific allegiances and cliques. Police will also be able to share information on gang signs, symbols, acronyms and clothing items worn by gang members for the purpose of designating their particular gang.
“It’s hard to get an understanding of gangs because they’re always changing and evolving,” said Cole. “We have a ton of information on local gang members, but if we need information on a gang member from another city, it’s going to take a lot of legwork and communication with other agencies to track down what we need.”
According to local investigators, communication between agencies is crucial in quelling area gang activity. Gang activity has grown into a serious problem for LaGrange. In May, LPD officials requested that the city hire two additional officers to help fight gang-related crime.
“We’ve experienced a rise in recent gang activity and we knew that we needed some sort of software to keep track of all our information,” said LPD Investigator Ray Ham. “We hired a new investigator — who started last week — who will focus specifically on gang activity. We’re still looking to add one more officer who will work as an analyst on the gang database.”
Ham said the software will be partially funded by the Prosecuting Attorneys Council (PAC) of Georgia, who will pay half of the $50,000 upstart fee. The remaining $25,000 will be split between the district attorney’s office and Carrollton and LaGrange’s police agencies.
“The state of Georgia passed legislation 15 years ago that outlined the creation of a statewide gang database which the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would handle,” said Ham. “The problem is, the GBI never funded it, so it never happened.”
Ham said that the gang problem in Georgia has grown much more difficult to keep track of in the past eight years thanks to smartphones and social media.
“The communication between these gangs has exploded since everyone has a smartphone and can connect through social media networks,” said Ham. “We see a huge amount of activity on networks like Twitter and Yik Yak. We will be able to take all of that information and upload it to the database.”
According to Cole, gang-related activity is prevalent in Carrollton, but the issue is not as severe as LaGrange.
“They’re definitely here and we know they are,” said Cole. “Gangs have existed — in some form or another — since biblical times. It’s not something you’ll completely eradicate, but you can gunk up the works for them enough to slow down their efforts.”
Cole said CPD investigators have worked 22 different gang-related cases and put 30 known gang members behind bars in the past 12 months. He noted that investigators are monitoring six different gangs and that Carrollton has a strong presence among Crips, Bloods and Gangster Disciple members.
According to Troup County District Attorney Ray Mayer, the district attorney’s office handled 123 gang-related cases in 2013. Of those cases, 57 were closed after the suspects pleaded guilty before going to trial.
“Our goal is to have the software for the gang database installed before the end of the year,” said Ham. “We hope to have the database fully operational in early 2016.”
Donny Karr is a reporter for the Carrollton Times-Georgian. Tyler H. Jones is a reporter for LaGrange Daily News and may be reached by calling 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.