Atlanta police said they are seeing a shift in the rules, allegiances and structure of street gangs that are responsible for a rash of smash-and-grab robberies that are now threatening the future of the businesses they hit.
Deputy Police Chief Carlos Banda said Friday that stealing cars and breaking through store display windows to get at armloads of expensive jeans or electronics is becoming as much a part of a gang's enterprises as drug distribution.
"What we are seeing [in gangs] now is a little different," Banda said. "Gangs in Atlanta are more hybrid."
He said gangs in the past controlled specific neighborhoods, relied on loyalty and had a hierarchy with one leader at the top.
The gangs now may form in neighborhoods, but the members are transient and not tied to a group because of the territory it works. Magnet schools and alternatives schools —- prime places for recruiting —- draw students from all over. Gang members use computers, cellphones and social networking sites to organize.
Banda said gangs put more emphasis on stealing cars and high-end merchandise, and on street robberies. And its not unusual for members to switch gangs two or three times.
"Lots of things are based on friendships," Banda said.
There's also a difference in how gangs distribute the money, which is shared equally among members, Banda said.
"We know these kids are giving a lot of money to their families, to support their families," he said.
In the month since the Atlanta Police Department's "anti-gang initiative" started, Sgt. Archie Ezell said, the unit has arrested almost 20 gang members, some for smash-and-grab robberies.
In a roundup last week, 11 people, eight of them juveniles, were arrested in the backyard of southeast Atlanta house while removing tags from shirts and hundreds of pairs of high-end jeans. Ezell said the group did three smash-and-grabs in a day.
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