'It used to be the Wild, Wild West. Now, it's the Unruly West':
Gangs are no secret in Macon, and they haven't been since the 1990s when the Macon Police Department first formed their gang unit.
Now, in 2021, the number of known gang members have dropped, and the way they operate has changed.
Montpelier Avenue used to be a dividing line between two of the most prominent gangs in Macon -- the Crips and the Mafia. Wear the wrong color on the wrong side and things could get violent.
"You wouldn't wear blue on that side of the street and you wouldn't say anything derogatory about the people who lived over there because there would be consequences," says Carl Fletcher.
Back in the early '90s, Fletcher, along with five other officers, were cracking down on gang activity.
"We started seeing a rash of shootings with people wearing the same type of clothing, so we went to the chief, told him what we thought, and he said, 'Put together a gang unit,'" he says. "It used to be the Wild, Wild West. Now, it's the Unruly West."
Now, 20 years later, he says things have changed. According to Fletcher, you can see the change just by looking at the side of a building.
"It is a perfect mural to spray paint who you're affiliated with, but there's not a thing on it, which tells you that the way they work now and the way they act now is not about graffiti, it's not about turf, it's not about colors, it's about money -- nothing but money."
According to Fletcher, that means some of the gang members are more interested in selling drugs than fighting with each other.
Reginald Kendrick lives in the Unionville area and he says he notices the change because he used to see it firsthand.
"From back in like '94, '95, '96, '97, the ones who used to be out there doing all kinds of things, now we done overcame that. Everybody is grown now, we wear whatever now," Kendrick says. "It's about money, man."
Corporal Tatreas Gray is one of the three deputies on the gang unit at the Bibb County Sheriff's Office.
"It's five well-known gangs, which are your GDs, your Bloods, your Crips, your Folks, and your Mafia."
He says along with those five, there are a few smaller "hybrid" gangs.
In 2016, WMAZ reported that Macon-Bibb had 30 active gangs and 600 active gang members.
In 2018, that number dropped to 500.
Now, Gray estimates there are around 300 active gang members in the county.
"Some of the guys and girls are getting older and realizing that's not the life to live no more," he says.
Gray grew up in Unionville and knows a lot of young kids in Macon need a mentor to get them on the right path, a mentor that won't judge them.
"Don't look at them sideways because they may have a past, but everybody has a past, so you have to look over that stuff and try to start them from a new person from when you get them at, and just build from there," he says. "Give them an opportunity. Don't take nothing away from them."
We asked Gray if any of the 24 homicides so far this year are tied to any known gang members.
He says they are still open investigations, so he can't say for certain, but he did say when there is a homicide investigation, they do go in and see if any of the suspects can be tied back to known gangs in the county.
Gray says working with other agencies is helping them keep tabs on who is out on the street.
When a known gang member gets out of the Georgia Department of Corrections, they are notified and they add them to the database.
In 2020, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced they would expand their Gang Task Force into Bibb County.
Gray says so far, they haven't built that relationship yet, but he says having access to their resources is going to be a huge help.
It's also important to note that just being in a gang is not illegal, but committing crimes on behalf of one is.
Although the number of known gang members have dropped over the years, Fletcher says he hopes that trend continues.
"I'm hoping that'll happen. Older people will tell the younger people, especially the older gang members will tell the young ones, don't do it. Just don't. It ain't worth it."