The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit and The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Target Atlanta’s gangs with lessons learned in Baghdad

By Kyle Mallinak

7:54 p.m. Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Street gangs in the Atlanta metro area have earned new attention from local government. Having accepted the existence of a gang problem, city officials are now working to formulate policy responses to restore public confidence and regain control over city neighborhoods.

While admitting the problem is an important first step to a successful gang control policy, the Atlanta Police Department now risks repeating the same policy mistakes that have led to failure throughout the country.

In statements to the AJC, police officials indicated that they would model their gang unit tactics on the methods used by the department’s Red Dog anti-drug unit. In addition, officials pointed to increased numbers of gang-related arrests as evidence of their commitment to solving the problem. Atlanta residents, however, should not confuse tough talk and quick arrests with real progress. A rush to embrace the methods of a controversial “war on drugs” is not the path to a successful gang control policy.

Except in rare cases, street gangs are not large mafia-style organizations. Instead, they are typically a small social network of mutual friends and acquaintances bound together by common aspirations or circumstances. Operating from within the protective cover of local neighborhoods, the gangs cannot be eradicated through large sweeps and blanket arrests. At best, these measures will keep low-level gang members off the streets for a few months; at worst, police harassment will turn casual friends of the gang into committed members and allow incarcerated local gang members to form connections with the thriving system of U.S. prison gangs.

Fortunately, Georgia has a large supply of professionals who know a better way to combat gangs. They are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, currently based at Fort Stewart, Fort Benning and other installations.

These security experts, too, once tried to control violence through hard-nosed tactics. They aggressively patrolled the streets, filled large prisons to capacity and pursued armed fugitives in every corner of the country. But the level of violence continued to increase, and in the process Georgia saw some of its best citizens killed.

Their deaths, however, paved the way for better policies. They now know that the best way to eliminate violent social networks is to build trust with residents and develop local communities, while gathering intelligence about violent offenders.

If Atlanta is serious about containing and defeating its gang problem, it will use its veterans as a source of effective tactics and overall strategic principles. City officials should visit combat commanders, read recent Army field manuals and hear the stories of those who have experienced direct combat. An Army major with two tours in Iraq should have no problem explaining to his police counterpart why large-scale raids can be counterproductive, but his knowledge is useless as long as law enforcement remains committed to simplistic notions of gang control.

Atlanta has the chance to become a national leader in successful gang policy, but the city needs a commitment to move beyond the failed policies of the past. Knee-jerk bravado could not clear insurgents from Baghdad, and it will not clear gangs from the streets of Atlanta — no matter what the APD says.

Kyle Mallinak is a McNair scholar at the University of South Carolina.

Find this article at:

No comments: