How one PD uses collaboration to battle gangs
A partnership between an investigator, an analyst and a prosecutor to share data and collaborate on cases is reducing gang crime in Georgia
Editor's note: In resource-strapped times, intelligence-led policing is a key to identifying and investigating gang activity. This special coverage series reviews strategies departments can deploy to take a data-driven approach to reducing gang-related crime.
By P1 Staff
Gangs operate across agency boundaries often exploiting the fact that each police department will have its own data on gang members and that it’s difficult to share this data between agencies. Of the 400 law enforcement agencies in Georgia, the LaGrange Police Department is making significant gang arrests by leveraging collaboration between a gang investigator, gang analyst and a prosecutor.
During a panel discussion moderated by Richard Zak, Director of Justice & Public Safety Solutions for Microsoft, at the 125th International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, Jarrod Anderson, a gang investigator with the LaGrange Police Department in LaGrange, Georgia; Andrew Foy, a gang analyst with the LaGrange Police Department in LaGrange, Georgia; and Jack Winne, assistant district attorney with the Troup County Prosecutors Office, Georgia; discussed how operating as a unit has enabled them to have real success in tackling gang activity.
Richard Zak: Innovation in LE happens everywhere and sometimes it happens in smaller departments because of necessity, solving the same kinds of problems but finding ways to leverage resources and new ways to tackle the problems. Can you tell us what LaGrange PD is doing?
Jarrod Anderson: It is no secret that our nation is plagued with gang violence and gang activity. The state of Georgia realized we were in a state of crisis as gang members terrorized our community. The city of LaGrange – a population of about 35,000 – found that our citizens were being victimized, from drive-by shootings at public restaurants, to guns being brought into high schools and a litany of crimes that were occurring. In 2013, LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar and city officials recognized this needed to be addressed and made a full-time gang investigators position, which I filled; in 2016 they brought on a full-time gang prosecutor, Jack Winne; and in 2017, we brought on a full-time gang analyst, Andrew Foy. Since that time we have worked diligently to eradicate criminal street gangs within our own community and collaborated with other state officials within Georgia to address these issues.
Richard Zak: What is interesting is the way you are tackling the problem through collaboration, where you are taking people out of silos both inside and outside of the department to address these issues. What are you doing now that is different from the past?
Andrew Foy: One thing we do that elevates our ability to prosecute is not only gathering the data from every source that we can to make this large universe of data, but that we all do it together. It is not just me gathering and analyzing intelligence, then Jerrod investigate the crimes and then Jack prosecutes – we all work together throughout the whole process; before we were not really doing that.
Jarrod Anderson: One thing we found is that each case is intertwined with something much larger than that single case. What may be an aggravated assault or simple shooting we are investigating, three weeks later can be on a social media return and end up in a murder trial of the same gang. There is no bit of data that comes back that won’t be useful in some manner, whether it is identifying new social media accounts, who is in group chats and what is going on.
Richard Zak: You are prosecuting crime by crime, but you have a broader picture of the criminal enterprise. You have a picture of individual crime in front of you and the criminal enterprise behind. How is that impacting your operations?
Jack Winne: Everywhere in the country is in a gang crisis, certainly every city at least as big as LaGrange. We see a lot of violent incidents that are part of a broader criminal enterprise. We evaluate each cases on an individual basis, but the objective is something larger than going case by case. We started to see some success with this proactive approach by trying to predict what will happen before it does happen. It is about the broader mission of going after the gangs and the culture more so than in other types of prosecution where you are responding to individual crimes.
Richard Zak: Georgia has a specific statute on gangs. Can you talk about that?
Jack Winne: A lot of states have anti-gang legislation. Georgia has what is widely considered one of the strongest statues in the country modeled after the federal RICO Act and then state RICOs. It gives us enhanced punishment and enhanced evidentiary provisions where we can tell the whole story of the gang and gang activity when prosecuting individual gang members or individual gang crimes. When we talk about gang prosecution, we are talking about prosecuting under the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
Richard Zak: What is the role of social media in making the jump from crime to criminal enterprise?
Jack Winne: Social media is the reason we have national gangs in places like LaGrange. We have come across cases where there are communications with gangs in Chicago or bloods in California. That is something that is happening across the country. We see with social media that not only are they promoting their gang, but they are also using social media to facilitate the underlying criminal activity itself such as drug distribution and weapons trafficking. Social media, which facilitates gang activity, is the single biggest tool we have for evidence for prosecuting gangs.
Andrew Foy: As the analyst, social media is my wheelhouse. I get gigabytes of raw data that may not have any purpose as of right now, but it is a piece of evidence somewhere in the future. An average Facebook return will have 10,000 pages of pdf documents – to be able to utilize that for more than one case, is vitally important.
Richard Zak: Do you have an example of this in action?
Jack Winne: There was a gang murder case I tried this spring that involved several shootings, a couple of murders and gang robbery. There were originally 10 defendants. In the middle of the trial a victim’s family member came up to me and pointed out that someone was posting and threatening a witness. When I went back to look at that social media profile, I saw the cover photo on Facebook was one of the defendants holding a gun that all the defendants said he had but we couldn’t find it, so we found that photo during the trial through social media.
Richard Zak: In the past investigators may have been digging for evidence, but with things like social media there is a wave of data to sort through not only for what helps now but also for the next case. How has that shifted over the years in regard to the universe of data you have to sort?
Jarrod Anderson: The main consideration is how to process it and store it in a manner where other people can utilize it. Each case balances off each other in some fashion. Our goal is to eradicate the gang, so if another gang member commits gang activity we are going to reach back into our bag of evidence. Because in our jurisdiction, gang members and associates know how we use social media to prosecute, investigate and monitor, immediately when a gang member thinks they will be charged under the gang act they will suspend their account. We now become proactive and save suspected gang member URLs and document then as intelligence so when they do delete their social media, we can go back in there and preserve that account and search it.
Richard Zak: What could hinder your progress?
Andrew Foy: One thing that could hinder us is failure to adapt or becoming complacent in what we are doing. Technology is always changing so we always have to figure how to utilize that to our advantage. We can't stop being proactive or staying completely up to date or just knowledgeable on these technologies, because these gang members are so fast in keeping up with what is changing. If we don’t do that it will halt all the success we have had.
Richard Zak: Gangs have embraced mobile and social media in every way. There are a lot of departments who look like LaGrange, where would you tell them to start?
Andrew Foy: It is easier said than done, but the first thing is having leadership like what we have with Chief Dekmar, plus leadership of members of the community. A lot of communities in Georgia are in denial about the gang problem they have and shifting public opinion is the first thing to address. That is how LaGrange has become a leader in the state of Georgia at least.
Richard Zak: How is your work visible to the community?
Jarrod Anderson: It is on the forefront of everyone’s mind and they recognize there is a gang crisis, not only in the state but within our community. The buy in comes from us giving gang awareness presentations to schools, hospitals, churches and civic organizations, wherever we can do intervention or gang prevention. We know the reasons people join gangs is identity and acceptance so if we can curtail that and get them involved in something like sports or religious or civic groups, that is our goal.
Jack Winne: There are two chief objectives. One is to remove the already corrupted, dangerous criminals off the street and the other is eventually hoping to break the cycle of gang recruitment and development through outreach. Part of it is also removing leaders in the gangs and sending a message that whenever they get to our office, we are prosecuting under the gang act.
Richard Zak: One of the things happening across Georgia is that a lot of departments are connecting together, specifically around gangs, with around 51-52 departments sharing intelligence outside the case file. How do you see that assisting LaGrange?
Andrew Foy: A lot of our success came from us collaborating. I think the ideal next step is to take that and put it on a larger scale and to be able to communicate between agencies. While it is not going to be completely open access, by using software and different programs we can say I know this individual came through my jurisdiction and committed this crime, but I have no idea who he is, but maybe someone from a neighboring jurisdiction does and is able to flag that.
Richard Zak: How did LaGrange go from no dedicated resources to the model you have now which is really tightly integrated between law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office?
Jarrod Anderson: Our community wanted to see change and we were the vehicle to help effect that change. At the end of the day, we just got better through dedication, collaboration and the sharing of information. It simply started with printing off images, taking photos with digital cameras, screen shots of images off social media and it just slowly evolved into search warrants. This is about addressing the gang crisis and eradicating criminal street gangs and it has been one group effort.
Richard Zak: How does the digital world affect the way you pull data together?
Andrew Foy: In a paper world, I could not do what I do. Without the programs and technology and software I have, I could not do my job. I can take massive stacks of data, a huge haystack, and within seconds pull out a pin of exactly what I need or see if it is there. One case that is in front of me can have evidence from three other cases we can pull in and make the case.
Richard Zak: What is the next step on the technology side?
Andrew Foy: The more data I have access to, the better I can be. To me the biggest hindrance will be keeping up with technology, so on the LE side our tech needs to be just as fast if not faster as what is going on out on the street. Every time something new happens and I see a new chat app or social media, I have to get in those social media returns or I may not be able to mine the data I need.
Jarrod Anderson: You can be a good gang member from the comfort of your own living room and you do that through a tablet or cell phone. Cell phone providers are coming up with better security measures that software can’t hack and I think our biggest challenge going forward will be cracking cell phones.
Richard Zak: How do you measure progress?
Jack Winne: I think we look at it in a couple of different ways. We averaged around 30 shootings or armed robberies or murders a year between 2012-2016 that we were able to identify that were explicitly gang motivated; last year that number was 7 or 8. There is anecdotal evidence we hear from gang members and the community, but really it is just feeling like we are making it a safer place to live.
Andrew Foy: The same sorts of incidents have been happening in LaGrange for a couple of decades. By using the gang act, being proactive and gathering intelligence and data, and having an assistant DA that is always communicating with law enforcement, we see cases now getting much stiffer sentences that before wouldn’t have been prosecuted or would have had much lighter sentences.