Lt. Michael Persley, a member of the Albany Police Department’s Gang Task Force, spoke Thursday at this month’s public meeting at the Government Building. The purpose of the meeting was to provide an overview of the city’s widespread illegal gang activity and to discuss ways the community could help control the problems.
ALBANY, Ga. — Gang memberships often increase not because of a desire to enter a gang, but because resistance is beaten down, authorities say.
“Here in Albany you can join a gang as early as 8 or 9 years old,” Lt. Michael Persley, assistant supervisor of the Albany Police Department’s Gang Task Force, said Thursday, “but the full indoctrination usually comes around 13 or 15 (years).”
Persley said the reasons for joining a gang vary according to each individual. For some it could be a “macho” decision, but in many cases young people have little choice but to join.
“They just get tired of having to fight someone every day,” Persely said. “After a while they give up and join.”
He was spaking at the Task Force’s first public meeting of the year, which was held at the Government Center, 222 Pine Ave. The purpose of the meetings, according to Persley, is to raise public awareness of illegal gang activity, and to generate possible solutions toward controlling the problems.
The meeting was attended by several Task Force officers; city officials, including Ward 1 Commission Jon Howard and Mayor Dorothy Hubbard; concerned residents, and educators.
Persley said four major gangs have been identified in Albany: The Bloods, Crips, Black Gangster Disciples and the CME Rattlers. In addition, each gang may consist of any number of “sets,” or offshoots of the main body.
Contrary to what some believe, poverty has little to do with the existence of organized gangs or the decision to join one, he said. In fact, Persley sees poverty as something of an excuse.
“Money is a factor, but not a major one,” Persley said. “We have gang members who come from well-to-do neighborhoods, where their parents have good jobs. Some even have college degrees. It’s something they’ve always been involved in. They’re true to the gang.”
To help counter widespread gang activity, the Task Force believes in partnering with the community for “prevention and intervention” before enforcement becomes necessary, Persley said. One promising technique involves speaking to area youth in churches, schools, social, community and civic organizations. According to Persley, that’s where the younger kids might be reached before they decide to join a gang. For older individuals, Persley said finding something else for them to do could be the better answer.
“Police officers have been known to help find jobs for (the gang members),” Persley said. “When they do, that’s a success. But it doesn’t have to be a job. It could be involvement in a civic organization. Albany State has fraternal groups that do community outreach. Maybe you can get them involved. That helps keep them from being candidates for illegal activities.”
Persley said he’d like to see the Task Force meeting room “so packed we have to move to a larger place.”
“I can’t over-stress that the community is the key to positive impact on the gang problems,” Persley said. “The police do everything they can to enforce the laws and keep public order, but the community can form watch groups and report more information so (the task force) can deal with the source problems.”
For a schedule of future Gang Task Force meetings, call the Albany Police Department at (229) 431-2100.