ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Dougherty County leaders said law enforcement agencies are short staffed.
A problem some said could make it harder to stop the ongoing problem of gang violence in the community.
Dougherty County Chairman Chris Cohilas said they need more boots on the ground when it comes to stopping these gang-related crimes. Law enforcement officials said there’s just one problem.
Many in the Albany community are fearful to go to school or the grocery store. A fear some said even seeped into the sanctuary of their churches this weekend.
“We have a gang problem in the community. And there’s one thing that gangs respect, and that’s sheer brutality,” said Cohilas.
Cohilas said he will not lock himself inside his house as gang violence erupts throughout the city. He said he’s ready to fight back.
“I am tired of our community feeling and living like it is in fear,” Cohilas said.
Two people have been killed in acts of gang violence, while another was hurt.
“I’m tired of hiding the elephant in the room. You know, we talk about we’re anti-gang and this and that. You know what, the county puts in two-thirds of the investment into the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit,” said Cohilas.
Cohilas said he’s concerned the City of Albany isn’t keeping the drug unit staffed like it’s supposed to. He said right now, the unit is short seven officers.
When Cohilas told Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul that they need to start making arrests, Sproul responded, saying the shortages make that difficult.
“We have met with other players who play into this from other law enforcement. We’re working on getting our community safer, but it’s something that’s not going to happen overnight,” said Sproul.
Law enforcement officials and Dougherty County seem to agree that they need to continue this conversation and something needs to be done about the crime soon.
Sproul also wants to remind everyone to keep their guns locked up.
County Commissioner Gloria Gaines asked Sproul how gang members usually get a hold of guns and weapons.
Sproul said they usually rob a home or car.
When they go to steal items, the guns are typically not locked away in cabinets, like he said they should be.
“Preach and teach it every time. I do neighborhood watches. Wherever I go and speak, that’s one of my subjects. I always go and speak about it. Always locking up your weapons or using a device on your weapons to keep your children from accessing them,” said Sproul.
Sproul said county and city law enforcement agencies are working together on the gang issue. He said they’re actually working on something big right now, but he couldn’t release any more details.
The Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office was able to host around 200 kids at its C.H.A.M.P.S. Summer Program this year.
Not only did they teach the kids safety lessons, they also taught them the dangers of gang violence.
The sheriff’s office puts on the free summer program for kids who need somewhere to go and learn during the summer.
During the five week camp, kids learned CPR and got free physicals from the Phoebe Network of Trust.
They also learned about bullying, how to recognize the signs and how to stop it.
A big push during the camp this year was talking to kids about gang violence.
They wanted to hear from kids about why they may be interested in joining a gang and then explained to them the dangers of it.
“So when we run into the parents, run into the child, we always check up on them and follow up with them. That’s the biggest thing we do is our follow up. It’s not a one hitter quitter. We’re in it for a lifetime,” said Captain Terron Hayes with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office.
Hayes said the camp is geared towards the younger kids but they do after-school mentoring for older students, hoping to keep them away from gangs and violence as well.
The sheriff’s office is looking at expanding the program next year, giving more lessons to the kids and even trying to find something suitable for the 15 to 18-year-olds in the community.