- Associated Press - Sunday, April 30, 2017

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Recent arrests in Athens signal a new strategy in the way police are combating gangs in the northeast Georgia city.

Police developed a new strategy after learning that a recent round of drive-by shootings was gang-related, Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Scott Freeman said.

“While no surprise to us, our detectives worked hard to determine the root cause of the violence,” Freeman said. “As a result, we re-evaluated the strategy we were using and determined we needed to add a new strategy.”

Local police have actively sought the arrest of violent gang members in the past, The Athens Banner-Herald reported (https://bit.ly/2qn9yXz).

But Freeman said his department is now targeting gangs as organized criminal organizations.

That means local gang members might find themselves indicted for violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which allows prosecutors to include defendants charged with various crimes in the same indictment while alleging they were all part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.

“We started off with our new strategy to actively seek out and arrest members with active arrest warrants for the most violent offenses such as armed robbery and aggravated assault,” the police chief said.

That effort involved Athens-Clarke County police partnering with surrounding law enforcement agencies, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the FBI, with the priority being the removal of the most violent criminal gang members from Athens neighborhoods.

“These relationships with other law enforcement agencies and the DA’s office are absolutely crucial as we all work together to achieve a safer region that is free from senseless gang violence,” Freeman said.

The police department will also continue with existing youth gang resistance strategies.

For current gang members, or anyone who has family or friends who need help in leaving a gang, “I would encourage them to contact us for guidance and assistance,” Freeman said.

“We are not going to arrest our way out of the gang issues here,” he said. “We are coming at the issue from all sides with the hopes to have tremendous community support and buy-in, and most importantly, a safer Athens-Clarke County.”

The recent gang roundup occurred April 24, when a total of 11 gang members and associates were arrested, police said.

More gang-related arrests are expected over the next few weeks, Freeman said.

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