Deputy chief gives lowdown on gangs

ALBANY -- The fight against gangs in Albany is tough and continuous, said an Albany Police Department official.

"The topic today is the threat that lurks in our streets," Albany Deputy Police Chief Nathaniel Clark told the Rotary Club of Albany on Tuesday. "Albany, like so many other cities in this great United States of America, is experiencing an influx of gang activity."

Citing U.S. Department of Justice statistics, Clark said there are 750,000 gangs in the country, and more than 15,000 of those gangs have a presence in Georgia. Previously, police have reported identifying more than 37 gangs in Albany.

In 2009, the Gang Unit made more than 400 arrests, Clark said. Of those arrests, 345 were adults and 62 were juveniles, he said.

Charges against gang members included murder, aggravated assault, robbery, battery and other crimes, Clark told a quiet audience of about 40 club members.

"Our mission is clear, to investigate gang-related crimes, to identify and document gang members, to educate the public on gang activity, to remove gang guns and other illegal weapons from our streets and to target and dismantle any criminal activities with a pro-active investigative approach," Clark said.

There is a critical necessity for Albany police to form partnerships with other law-enforcement agencies, churches, schools, neighborhood organizations, civic groups and the whole community, Clark said.

The Albany police conducted about 100 outreach programs to educate people about gang activities in the city, Clark said. The police also published a pamphlet to help residents identify gang graffiti, hand signs symbols tattoos and colors among other characteristics that might surface in their neighborhoods.

The pamphlet also has advice for parents and suggestions on leaving gangs among other information.

It is a mistake, Clark said, to think that the gangs are merely a bunch of "wannabes," they are gangs in every sense of the word including beating and sexual initiations. Gangs are recruiting youth from schools and in the neighborhoods, he said.

The community must respond "by joining groups that report suspected gang activity, attending gang workshops, by establishing and supporting positive youth programs, by becoming aware of gang warning signs such as graffiti, tattoos unusual symbols and language," Clark said.

Parents must set firm guidelines and clear expectations for children's behavior, Clark said. Education must be stressed, while parents accept responsibility for the city's youth, he added.

"Gang activity will not be tolerated in our city under any circumstances," Clark said. "We will not be held hostage in our own home. Working together we can and we shall make a difference."

Clark said that the Albany Police Gang Unit would bring more information and exhibits to a club meeting on March 9.

Rotary members leaving the lunch felt that they had heard an informative and useful talk about a difficult problem.

"I think the police are doing a good job," said Albany resident Lane Price. "I am looking forward to the gang unit bringing in some exhibits."