James Sept-Oct 2021 web - Flipbook - Page 67
SEPTEMBER/ OCTOB E R 2021
ournalist Jill Leovy wrote in her 2015 book Ghettoside,
which examined the issue of homicide in Los Angeles,
“Where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes
endemic.” At what point can we admit that homicide
has become endemic, not only in Atlanta but across Georgia?
And if we agree that it has, what, then, can we do about it?
I propose we examine past surges in violence, review effective tools and outline a game plan that meets both social and
criminal justice standards that can be deployed with the same
sense of urgency our state displayed in confronting COVID-19.
As Atlanta was pummeled last year by the pandemic
and weeks of protests, police resources were stretched thin.
Criminals noticed, and crime spiked. A 60 percent increase
in homicides left 157 people dead in Atlanta alone in 2020.
And Atlanta’s homicides are already up 55 percent from last
year. Non-fatal shootings, armed robberies, carjackings, and
other violent crimes are touching more and more lives
Contained within these alarming numbers is an even
more ominous trend. Organized criminal groups have prospered and grown. Call them criminal street gangs, drug cartels, hate groups, organized crime, outlaw motorcycle gangs,
or criminal enterprises; the reality is that as violent crime
rapidly increases, organized criminal groups are extracting
an increasing share of that total.
Just like COVID-19, gang violence does not limit itself to
urban or rural communities. A 2019 statewide Georgia law
enforcement survey revealed that 153 of 159 sheriff’s departments and 323 of 363 municipal police departments replied
that criminal street gangs are their top concern. However,
with violent crime up as much as 50 percent around the
state, arrest warrants for Gang Act violations were actually down 30 percent in 2020 over the prior year. Reduced
suppression of criminal activity during a spike in violence
signals to cartels they can expand their criminal activity
with lowered risk of interdiction. The math is simple and
apolitical. If arrests are down, fewer indictments are brought
to prosecutors, the number of felony convictions goes down
and more members of criminal organizations roam the
streets contributing to the spasm of violence.
Yet in the face of this crisis, there are positive signs.
Consider a few examples. With no budget increases and only
three officers, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office leveraged
a talented team to lead the state in Gang Act arrests; the
sheriff and district attorneys in Cherokee and Spalding counties have banded together to push back gangs; and Fulton
County Sheriff Pat Labat formed the first-ever Metro Atlanta
Criminal Enterprise Task Force (MACE). The Fulton County
district attorney’s office also indicted its first-ever gang RICO
case in response to a long-running violent gang war.
The 2020 pandemic may have left us with a silver lining:
a model used against the virus that can be repurposed in the
fight against violent crime. I propose the following model,
deployed regionally across the state, like the distribution of
the vaccine via mass-vaccination sites:
Identify top local investigators in each Judicial District,
who are experienced in building complex cases, to
organize small, virtual investigative teams capable of
producing outsized results. Involve Department of Corrections (which houses the largest population of gang
members in the state), experienced District Attorney
Gang Prosecutors and the Georgia Gang Investigators
Association (which has the largest collection of experienced gang investigators) to deliver an intensive
training regime to locals.
Develop a list of High Value Targets, comprised of leaders of organizations responsible for violence in each
region, and develop an intelligence cycle that allows
law enforcement to quickly respond to gang-driven
Build criminal cases against violent perpetrators and
their organizations by leveraging Georgia’s Street
Gang Act and RICO, prioritizing violent repeat offenders, murder and aggravated assault.
Coordinate investigations with a district attorney to
ensure the investigative work product is prioritized and
fast-tracked for grand jury and prosecution. And then
presenting its final work product transparently to the
public via jury trial, to be judged on its statutory merits.
Index goals for gang arrest warrant production to current levels of gang-motivated crime. Use convictions as
a measure of success in leveraging Gang Act and RICO
prosecutions to “bend the curve” towards a reduction
in violent crime by criminal organizations.
This measurable, proven process puts the criminal justice system in its rightful place as the protector of citizens.
The law can be applied as it was intended, assuring that
“justice” always immediately follows “criminal.”
Tom Ratchford of Atlanta is a former diplomat, has experience in the
intelligence field and is CEO of a software company that focuses on
criminal justice issues.
SEPTEMBER/ OC TOBER 2 0 2 1