MACON, Ga. — During last year's gubernatorial race, Brian Kemp campaigned heavily on "keeping Georgia families safe."
Part of that plan included launching a GBI task force to dismantle and destroy gangs across the Peach State.
"The budget I proposed does have half a million dollars in it to create a gang task force within the GBI. [It] will be seasoned investigators and prosecutors that understand gangs, and not only doing the joint operations or assisting the locals with arresting gangs and kind of going after them on the streets, but also getting them prosecuted," Kemp told 13 WMAZ in February.
Eight months after Kemp took office, that task force is starting to take off, and some local law enforcement agencies say they will welcome the help.
"We've seen a tremendous increase in gang involvement in, what I'm gonna tell you, is the last 8-10 years," Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee said. "We think we do have a real active 200 people involved in our gangs."
But in Bibb County, investigators say that number is about five times as high.
Captain Michael Bittick estimates Macon-Bibb currently has around 1,000 active gang members.
"Most members would probably be Crips. Also the GDs, or Gangster Disciples, are the most active gang in Macon," Bittick said.
State-wide, increase that number times 10.
GBI Director, Vic Reynolds, says a 2018 state-wide survey estimated there are about 71,000 active gang members across Georgia.
But Reynolds says that number did not include an estimated 13 to 14 thousand gang members on parole or probation, and another 13 or 14 thousand in prison.
"You're talking easily in the 6-figures -- over 100,000 folks," Reynolds said.
Reynolds says the goal of the newly formed task force is to lower the number of gang members across the state.
Keep in mind, just being in a gang is not illegal, but committing crimes on behalf of one is.
"We get calls from local law enforcement agencies to say, 'we have a gang problem, come and help us — or come and work it'," Reynolds said.
Right now, Reynolds says six GBI agents make up that task force, plus a Special Agent and an Assistant Special Agent. The team started working on cases this summer.
In June, Reynolds says the unit helped charge seven people in Emanuel County with gang-related crimes, including murder.
"Our goal is not just to arrest individuals, but to make charges that are prosecutable -- that result in convictions -- and that actually gets criminal street gang members and associates off the street and into the prison system," GBI Prosecutorial Liaison Jaret Usher said.
According to Usher, if convicted on a criminal street gang charge, the maximum penalty is 20 years in prison.
The Bibb County Sheriff's Office has its own unit devoted to arresting people who violate the Georgia criminal street gang statute. Captain Michael Bittick says they always welcome help, but the new task force will most likely help cities and counties with less manpower or less experience.
Sheriff Massee says although Baldwin is smaller than Bibb, they have also arrested and prosecuted gang members for years. He says the new task force is an added bonus for Georgia law enforcement and prosecutors.
"We had been working closely together before and now we plan to work even closer with them," Massee said.
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