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Agencies share gang info at task force meeting

ALBANY -- Barely 52 days into the new job, Albany Police Department Capt. Bonita Childs said she was thrilled by the chance to lead the police gang unit.

"I enjoy working with the officers in this particular unit," Childs said. "We are extremely active and busy. We do things on off-hours. We don't work 9 to 5. We are subject to come out 2 or 3 in the morning, whenever there is gang activity; if I get the phone call, I activate the unit."

Childs spoke at the first Gang Task Force and Violence Prevention meeting of 2010 in the Government Center at noon Thursday. The meetings are held monthly until December and are open to the public, said Ward 1 Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard.

The meetings usually have someone familiar with the nature of gangs, youth and the ongoing war against gang crime, such as a juvenile court judge, to speak.

Since there had not been a meeting in December and January, this meeting was an informational session assessing the past year. It also gave officials a chance to reacquaint themselves with each other and share information.

Exchanging information among the various agencies that deal with juveniles, gangs and crime has not always been the best, officials said, but it is improving.

"There is a disconnect with receiving information," said Diane Douglas-Harris, of the Department of Juvenile Justice. "The disconnect comes in receiving information about the juveniles we get. We need to know if they are in rival gangs because when they get to us, the behavior and rivalry doesn't stop."

Douglas-Harris said that her staff needs to know who is coming under their jurisdiction and what gangs they represent. She also wanted more training on gangs for her staff.

Childs didn't hesitate. She exchanged numbers and e-mail addresses with Douglas-Harris and said ttraining would be made available.

"We will continue to share information and training with anyone who needs it," Childs said.

Partnerships among the juvenile authorities and the gang unit became a topic as the unit's Lt. Tony Moore saw an opportunity for the agencies to join in checking on youths in the community.

"We do field interviews to identify the gang members in the community and start to track them," Moore said. "We also utilize the courts to get into (gang member') houses. If we ID you we are going to visit you."

The gang unit knows that gang members are trying to spot them, in effect placing surveillance on the gang unit. It won't do them any good, Childs said.

"We know what they are trying to do," Childs said. "We are on to them."

Representatives from various agencies including the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office, the Dougherty County Police Department, Dougherty County School System Police, state and federal probation agencies and others attended the meeting.