GPD chief speaks out on plans to address gang crime, including FBI Violent Crime Task Force

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

Griffin Police Department Chief Steve Heaton is taking multiple steps to address the city’s gang issue.

While he acknowledges the problem of gang related crime is increasing, he wants the community to know his department is working to stem the tide.

“I think that we’ve seen some increased activity this year,” Heaton said. “We had a series of shootings back in June that was gang related. The murder we just had wasn’t gang-related, but the perpetrators of that crime were gang members. I think the gangs are increasing their activity level. I think people should know, though, that we’re actively trying to address the issue.”

Heaton’s intent is to implement a number of strategies to curb the gangs’ criminal activities.

In addition to actively working to compile a database of known local gang members, Heaton has reached out to other law enforcement agencies for assistance in addressing the problem.

“I’ve spoken to other department that have gang investigators for their input on what they’re doing. I’ve also spoken with some local FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) officials. They have a Violent Crime Task Force, so I’ve reached out to them for their assistance,” he said. “We’re trying to establish a liaison with that group.”

Heaton also is working to create a unit within the GPD to specifically deal with the gang issue.

“We’re trying to establish a unit that can address our gang related problems,” he said. “They would be able to assist investigators working on crimes that may be gang related to determine if the gang statute may be appropriately applied.”

Heaton said several criminal cases implementing the state of Georgia’s gang statute have been successfully prosecuted in Spalding County in recent months, a trend he would like to see continue.

The PD remains significantly understaffed, but as officers are hired and the staffing level returns to full strength, Heaton wants to implement an additional specialized unit to further combat the problem.

“When staffing levels permit, I want to form a Crime Suppression Unit,” he said. “That will give additional manpower to address this issue.”

In addition to the law enforcement measures Heaton intends to use to fight the Griffin’s gang problem, he does not believe the solution stops there.

“I’ve reached out to some of our religious-based folks to discuss how we’re going to address some of the issues in the community,” Heaton said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to establish some working groups that will be able to address the issues we’re having.”

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