Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece by GBI Director Vic Reynolds originally appeared on ValdostaToday.com. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
Once again demonstrating his steadfast leadership in fighting the nation’s greatest public safety threat, Governor Brian Kemp issued forceful warnings to criminal street gangs recently. During speeches in Savannah and Albany, Governor Kemp served notice that gang members were not welcome in Georgia. He put the criminal street gangs on notice that Georgia’s tough anti-gang statutes would be enforced in all corners of our state.
As his appointed Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Governor Kemp’s words are certainly inspiring. Early in his administration, GBI was tasked with the responsibility of being at the proverbial “tip of the spear” when it came to combating the growing incursion of gangs and gang crime facing our state. A centerpiece of Governor Kemp’s visionary plan was the establishment of the GBI Gang Task Force and an enhanced focus for GBI—both through GBI’s direct efforts and as a “force multiplier” in its conjunction with law enforcement and prosecution partners—on combating gangs.
While Governor Kemp’s blueprint has only been in place for a few months, its dividends are already evident.
In his Savannah address, Governor Kemp touched on the fact that criminal street gangs dominate all areas of crime. This includes violent crime, drug dealing, and sex-trafficking. This includes, to Governor Kemp’s point, attacks on our finest, “I’m tired of our law enforcement officials being shot up for no reason by gang bangers.”
The wantonness of gang lawbreaking is exemplified in cases all over the State of Georgia. This is not simply a metropolitan Atlanta problem, but an issue we are seeing in suburban and rural areas of our state as well.
With well over one million gang members in the United States, 70,000 of which are in Georgia, we face a gang crisis. Fortunately, Governor Kemp is not only prepared to confront that crisis but to battle it—and win.
To be most impactful, investigations and prosecution must focus on the utilization of Georgia’s anti-gang laws. Unfortunately, while Georgia possesses the strongest and most effective anti-gang laws in the country, they are historically underutilized.
This being true, for the GBI to implement Governor Kemp’s plans, it was necessary for GBI to:
▪ Institute best practices under Georgia’s anti-gang laws;
▪ Conduct training and provide assistance on best practices under Georgia’s anti-gang laws; and
▪ Implement the application of best practices under Georgia’s anti-gang laws.
To achieve this, under Governor Kemp’s direction, I have hired top experts in Georgia’s anti-gang laws at GBI. They serve to assist in stages of GBI investigations, and also assist other agencies in their anti-gang efforts.
The results of GBI adhering to Governor Kemp’s plan have already been significant. A brief list includes the following:
▪ In partnership with the Georgia Gang Investigators Association, GBI has trained over 3,000 state, local, and federal law enforcement officers on gang investigation techniques and the application of Georgia’s anti-gang laws.
▪ GBI has trained scores of state and federal prosecutors on gang prosecution laws and techniques in numerous venues.
▪ GBI has consulted with law enforcement and prosecutor agencies across Georgia at all stages of gang cases, from investigation to trial, and appeal.
▪ GBI has taught judges from across Georgia on the applications of Georgia’s anti-gang laws.
▪ GBI is in the process of establishing a gang-database to assist law enforcement which should be operational in early 2020.
This partnering by GBI under Governor Kemp’s leadership has led to significant encroachment on criminal gang activity in Georgia with cases being made and indictments being returned in several counties across our state.
While GBI’s achievements so far have been motivating, there is certainly more work to be done. With thousands of gang members operating throughout Georgia, the GBI is dedicated to remaining vigilant and active. And although Georgia’s anti-gang laws are America’s best, there is certainly room for them and related provisions to be upgraded, improved, and refined.
Governor Kemp distinguished himself among his national colleagues by stepping forward with his plan to “stop and dismantle” gangs in Georgia. As long as gang members are active here, they will continue to victimize and recruit, running over lives and communities along the way.
GBI is committed to Governor Kemp’s anti-gang vision. We are prepared to continue this fight— and win it— for the safety of law-abiding Georgians everywhere.
About the author: Vic Reynolds serves as the Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, after his appointment to that position by Governor Brian Kemp in February 2019. Director Reynolds wishes to thank GBI Chief Legal Counsel Mike Carlson for his assistance in creating this column.