"My focus is on fulfilling my campaign promise to go after street gangs," Kemp said recently. "We still have a lot of work to do there, so that's my priority."
News of the bills, expected to be officially announced Thursday, comes days after Kemp-appointed GBI Director Vic Reynolds and other law enforcement personnel spoke told lawmakers about the state's gang issues. Reynolds said local law enforcement agencies all over the state have told the GBI that gangs are the most pressing challenge they face — "from North Georgia to South Georgia, from east Georgia to west Georgia."
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The director acknowledged it’s difficult to say how many gang members there are in Georgia. But he cited a 2018 study by the Georgia Gang Investigators Association, which estimated the state had 71,000 gang members and 1,500 gangs. He also said federal data on gangs showed in 2011 that, nationally, gang membership had been on the rise since 2005.
The proposed bills would give new and broad power to prosecutors to fight gangs, even allowing them to prosecute gang activity that didn’t happen in their jurisdiction. For example, if a gang member was charged in Forsyth County, prosecutors would also able to charge them with gang crimes other counties.
Some who were advocates of former Gov. Nathan Deal’s prison reforms worry Kemp’s gang initiatives threaten what they view as improvements that have reduced the states’ prison population and encouraged diversionary programs.
“We know these reforms work,” said Jason Pye of FreedomWorks, a libertarian-leaning advocacy group. “Why would you change the approach and go back to what we know doesn’t work?”