Capt. Wendy Luster, supervisor of the Albany Police Department Gang Task Force, provides an overview of gang structure and hierarchy Thursday at a meeting at the Government Center. (May 23, 2013)
ALBANY, Ga. -- Members of the Albany Police Department's Gang Task Force on Thursday provided a real "education" for members of the public and some city officials at the Government Center.
"What we're talking about here is 'Gangs 101,'" said Capt. Wendy Luster, supervisor of the Gang Unit.
Luster and Sgt. Ernest Thompson, also with the gang unit, gave an overview of the local gang structure, gang thinking, motivation and leadership. According to the officers, additional emphasis is currently being placed on controlling Albany gangs such as the Bloods, the Crips and the CME Rattlers, the oldest of the city-based gangs.
"We're making it known to them that even though school is out, we have zero tolerance to criminal gang activity," Thompson said. "We're making a positive input and telling them straight out: 'Not this summer. It's not going to happen.'"
Addressing the group of about a dozen people, Thompson asked for help in controlling gang activity and related crime.
"Our biggest resource for information is you," Thompson said. "If you're having neighborhood watch meetings, we encourage you to invite someone from the gang unit to help educate your members."
Luster described the basic gang structure of the groups, including the "friends" who tend to drift in and out of gang life with little real commitment; "wannabes," who don't belong but hang out with the gang for fun or excitement, and "associates," junior gang members who might one day graduate to becoming "hard-core" members. Hard-core members typically are older and with real criminal backgrounds, Luster said.
At the top of the gang structure is a single leader who is usually older than many of the members, and who has a prison record and a willingness to hurt people.
"They look up to their leaders in just the way we look up to ours," Luster said. "The leaders actively recruit younger kids for the gangs. It can be a real temptation, but the final decision comes with the juvenile."
According to Luster, once an individual has joined a gang, there are just two ways to leave: imprisonment or death. But even with incarceration, gangs exist in prison.
Luster called on the community to report any perceived gang activity to the Gang Task Force or to the APD, saying there are ways to provide the information anonymously.
"I live in a quiet neighborhood," Luster said, "but that doesn't mean it will never change. We need to keep our eyes open and be prepared -- like the armed forces. We need to keep our legacy as the Good Life City."