Incoming GBI head pledges transparency and aggressive stance on gangs

Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds has been tappped by Gov. Brian Kemp to lead the GBI. (KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM)

Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds has been tappped by Gov. Brian Kemp to lead the GBI. (KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM)

As he prepares to take the helm of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Vic Reynolds is working on a list of priorities, a list he said is informed by his years as Cobb County’s district attorney and discussions he’s started having with authorities across the state.

The first problem to tackle, he said in an interview Tuesday at the state Capitol, is gangs. Like Gov. Brian Kemp, who appointed Reynolds to lead the GBI, Reynolds said gangs are causing violence in the cities, the suburbs and the rural reaches of the Peach State. Reynolds said he looks forward to putting into motion Kemp's previously announced statewide gang task force, which will have an expert organized crime prosecutor to help local authorities, especially in smaller jurisdictions, build gang cases. Reynolds also wants to push gang accountability courts across the state to help young gang members, particularly minors, reform.

“I think it’s one of the major criminal concerns of this state,” Reynolds said of the gang issue, “and I intend to address it straight out the chute.”

Reynolds — a Rome native who's been a cop, defense attorney and Cobb's DA since 2012 — is expected to be sworn in as head of the GBI in mid-February. He replaces recently retired Vernon Keenan, the longtime director who worked up the ranks over four decades at the GBI.

Keenan became something of living legend in Georgia law enforcement, a man who always seemed to be there for big moments, like Forrest Gump.

Former GBI Director Vernon Keenan (KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC file)


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Reynolds knows it’ll be tough coming into the agency from the outside and replacing Keenan. “It’s somewhat like replacing Bear Bryant,” Reynolds said, referring to the former University of Alabama football coach who was god-like to legions of fans.

Kemp said he thinks Reynolds can pull it off.

“He’s a man of integrity. He’s got a lot of experience on the ground as a police officer, a prosecutor,” the governor told The AJC. “And he’s an innovator. He’s done great things going after gangs in Cobb County, he’s easy to work with. And he’s going to be a great leader.”

Some have criticized Kemp’s focus on gangs, accusing him of inflating the problem during the election to spur fear and, in turn, votes. Firm numbers are difficult to come by, but some investigators have documented increases in gang activity in Georgia.

Gov. Brian Kemp.   Bob Andres /

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

Before leaving office, Keenan questioned how big the gang problem was across Georgia. “What we see in the GBI is small homegrown self-proclaimed gangsters, who are in fact just a group of criminals that give themselves a name,” he told the AJC in October, adding that such groups might not actually qualify as gangs because they have no hierarchy. Keenan said more study is needed to see what areas have gang problems and what areas have criminals acting on their own without coordination.

Reynolds said he will follow the facts where they lead, but, so far, he’s heard from authorities all over Georgia who say they are seeing bona fide gang problems.

Cyber-crime is another priority. Reynolds labeled it a growing threat and said the GBI should take a lead role in combating it.

The GBI has seen an increase in calls for assistance from smaller, understaffed police departments. And Reynolds said he will look for ways to help.

He also intends to search for ways to reduce the GBI’s crime lab backlog, because “they’re just so covered up with cases.”

And he pledged as much transparency as possible in officer involved shooting cases, which the GBI now investigates for the vast majority of law enforcement agencies in the state. “We need to be very open and transparent,” he said.

Reynolds said he intends for the agency to be accountable to the public.

“We’re always, always, always going to tell the truth,” he said. If “we mess up, we’ll fess up.”

— Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed reporting.