Butts County Sheriff’s Office joins Gang Intelligence Platform

Local prosecutors and Butts County Sheriff’s Office officials are photographed after signing a memorandum of understanding in January to join the Georgia Gang Intelligence Platform. (Special Photo)

The Butts County Sheriff’s Office has joined a statewide network set up to share information on gang members and gang activity across jurisdictions.

Law enforcement agencies with access to the Georgia Gang Intelligence Platform can share information that may be helpful in prosecuting gang suspects under Georgia’s anti-gang statute, which allows for stiffer penalties on gang activity.

The Gang Intelligence Platform was started in Georgia in 2016 when the state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council awarded the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia funds received through the Department of Justice Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. The $300,000 award allowed PAC to roll out the Gang Intelligence Platform to 20 local law enforcement agencies around the state, according to the CJCC.

Last fall, the CJCC awarded $2.6 million in Justice Assistance Grant funds to the GBI to bring more agencies onto the Gang Intelligence Platform.

“The importance of this project cannot be overstated,” PAC Executive Director Pete Skandalakis said in a statement in October. “The platform, coupled with the Georgia Gang statute, provides law enforcement and prosecutors valuable and needed tools to build strong cases against known gang members and identify connections, which ultimately makes our communities safer.”

Last month, local prosecutors with the Towaliga Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, officials with the Butts County Sheriff’s Office and the GBI signed a memorandum of understanding, bringing the sheriff’s office onto the platform.

Butts County Sheriff’s Major Jeff Nix said three investigators with the sheriff’s office will use the system as they encounter and investigate gangs and gang members who may commit crimes locally. They will be trained on the system in the near future, before it is fully in use.

Nix said the tool will help provide information in cases where a suspect in a local crime may have gang ties in another area of the state — ties that are unknown to local law enforcement officers. With information on the suspect’s gang ties shared by another jurisdiction, local prosecutors can charge the suspect under the gang statute and seek a stiffer sentence.

“If he’s a known gang member in Atlanta, we can get in contact with that investigator and he can tell us the ins and outs of the criminal enterprise,” Nix said. “Sheriff (Gary) Long is not going to tolerate gangs in this community.”

Elizabeth Bobbitt, the acting district attorney for the Towaliga Judicial Circuit, said that using the Gang Intelligence Platform is a proactive way to approach criminal gang activity.

“Any time you can be proactive and stop activity in your community before it has a stronghold, it’s an awesome thing,” she said. “It should make families feel better that they have a sheriff’s office that’s very proactive in trying to keep this activity out before it starts.”

Long, the Butts County sheriff, said that by sharing information with other law enforcement agencies, investigators can more easily get in front of gang activity and work to stop it.

“Sometimes when it’s an unknown who comes into the county, it’s a whole lot of work to figure out who they’re connected to,” Long said, adding that he considers the information-sharing platform a valuable tool. “We don’t wait for our house to burn down before we install a smoke detector,” he said. “It’s so much easier to handle it from the front side than when it festers and blows up.”

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Michael Davis has been the editor of the Jackson Progress-Argus since 2010. He previously worked as an editor and reporter for the Henry Daily Herald and Clayton News-Daily.