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Law enforcement officers convene for gang overview

Choice Barnes, detective with the Valdosta Police Department and member of the FBI Gang Task Force, instructs officers of area law enforcement agencies. Held at Albany State University Thursday, “Street Gang Investigations: An Overview” was designed to bring investigators together to share information on controlling urban gangs.

Choice Barnes, detective with the Valdosta Police Department and member of the FBI Gang Task Force, instructs officers of area law enforcement agencies. Held at Albany State University Thursday, “Street Gang Investigations: An Overview” was designed to bring investigators together to share information on controlling urban gangs.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Sponsored by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Georgia Gang Investigators Association and the Albany Police Department, law enforcement officers from around the state convened at Albany State University Thursday for Street Gang Investigations: An Overview, designed to help control crime by urban street gangs.

According to Lt. Michael Persley with Albany Gang Task Force, the program drew officers and interest from all over the state

"This is specific street gang training for officers," Persley said. "Not just in the Southwest Georgia area. We have officers from north Georgia, from the east and west. We've had even requests for having it again from people who weren't able to bring people."

Persley said he had originally requested assistance from the U.S. District Attorney's Office, Middle District of Georgia, in hosting a gang training program for the APD's own gang unit and for some surrounding areas.

"When the announcement went out, we immediately got a lot of feedback," Persley said, "We're coming, we're coming."

Officials say the reason for selecting Albany as a host city for the program was simply it's role as "hub" for Southwest Georgia, then as the word got out law enforcement agencies realized how useful the information could be.

Instructors versed in "gang management" shared such crime-fighting information as better ways for gang member identification, prosecuting gang-related court cases and even dealing with the enforcement and prevention of gang-style crime, Persley said.

"Officers will take back what they learn here to their communities," Persley said. "They get the training and the knowledge here so they educate the public."

According to Persley, the reception of the gang information program has been so positive there has been talk of expanding it an extra day next year, or possibly to one program with various gang information "modules," so that officers can pick and choose.

One growing aspect of gang control is social media such as Facebook and Twitter, Persley said. The gangs are using it on a regular basis to expand their domains and for recruitment.

"We have younger officers coming in who better understand the social media," Persley said. "If you don't understand the new technology all you're going to do is fail. We're fighting an ideology. Gang members are thinking 'I want to be in a gang because there are no dreams for me at home. You may be telling me what to do, but that's not the way it is out here.'"

"I think this a real good thing," said Choice Barrens, a police detective and member of the FBI Gang Task Force. "We can come together and network here. We can share our situations with those at home. This way we can compare and find out what gang signs or colors are being seen in other areas or if we have the same groups. A lot of times patrol officers and detectives don't really talk to each other. Sharing is the big thing. For a long time we ignored that we even had a gang problem. Now it's out there and it's time to fix the problem."