APD Chief: Help needed in fight against gangs

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany Police Department plans to continue fighting gangs for the long term, but it cannot stand alone, police Chief John Proctor said at the monthly Gang Task Force meeting Thursday.

"Our community, like many others, recognized that we had gang problem," Proctor said. "In 2008, the city tasked the police department with doing something about it. And with that the Gang Task Force was formed."

The police will not relent in its fight with gangs, Proctor said. It will continually investigate gangs, their crimes, it will always identify gang members and their affiliates, educate the community and cooperate with other law enforcement agencies, such as the Dougherty County Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office, in the fight.

The key is to include faith-based and other community organizations in the effort, Proctor said. It is also very important to include youth, he added.

Emphasizing youth and positive points in the fight against gangs, Proctor said he brought a "special treat" to the meeting. Seven members of the Albany Police AmeriCorps played a tape of a rap song they had written.

The lyrics from the group's song contrasted with the normal rap lyrics that glorify violence.

Stop the violence, stop the hate

The city is going in the wrong direction

Stop the violence

It is the moment, get noisy, no silence

Do the right thing

Let's make the change

It is time we make a change

It will be a long struggle, Proctor said, and it isn't just a policie problem. It is a community problem that needs help from everyone, he added.

Parents, especially teen parents, need to be taught parenting skills.

Community organizations must help give the young places where they can feel connected and learn how to recognize problems and how to avoid them while growing up, Proctor said.

"We have to give other alternatives rather than just joining a gang," Proctor said. "We need other groups, such as mentoring groups within churches. We have to stay engaged with our youth. I am especially impressed with the Stop the Violence initiative."

The Stop the Violence Movement was started in Albany by Bishop Frederick Williams Sr. of Gethsemane Worship Center to give youth alternative activities, mentoring by adults and other avenues to avoid gangs and ultimately jail.

All efforts are good, said Leroy Smith, an Albany resident at the meeting. He wanted to know if the police had the resources to continue the fight.

Albany City Commission members Dorothy Hubbard and Jon Howard responded that they would strongly support funding for the police in the future.

"Working as a commissioner, I will continue to have the city fund the Gang Task Force," Howard said. "We will continue the funding for many years to come."

In other business, the need for Spanish-speaking police officers was discussed. Everyone at the meeting felt that with a growing Hispanic population there was a definite need.

"I'd support finding a way to have Spanish teachers from Darton (College) and ASU (Albany State University come and teach officers Spanish," Howard said.

In another positive note, police Capt. Bonita Childs, leader of the gang unit, reported that in 2010 there have been 84 gang-related arrests.

Although more than 40 gangs have been identified in the city, Childs said that four could be called the most active and the police are zeroing in on them.