ATLANTA - For weeks FOX 5 News has reported about a spike in carjackings in metro Atlanta, but who is behind the increase? Atlanta Police said the majority of these crimes are being committed by gang members and gave a rare look inside the Atlanta Gang Unit and what they are doing to deal with the growing gang problem.
Sergeant Archie Ezell and Investigator Tyrone Dennis work the most dangerous streets in Atlanta. They are part of the Atlanta Gang Unit that work to identify, target and prosecute gang members.
Investigator Dennis explained to FOX 5's Nathalie Pozo how one carjacking can lead to a web of crime that ends in murder.
“"It's almost like a puzzle, putting pieces together,” said Investigator Dennis. “This is an investigation from back in 2014 in reference to a large number of carjackings, armed robberies and eventually home invasions and also a murder.”
The gang unit is on the front lines of the spike in carjackings and said gang members are committing the majority of them. Investigators said some of them are so young, they are not seen as a threat.
“In reference to the gas station robberies now, a lot of them are so little, are so young that they target women or people that are not paying attention,” said Investigator Dennis. “Everybody says the same thing, he looks like a baby, he looks like a baby until they stick a gun in your face.”
According to the gang unit there are more than 135 gangs in Atlanta and as the city grows, so do the gangs. Sergeant Ezell said within the last few years, they've seen an alarming increase in teens arming themselves with guns and in many cases these teens are stealing guns from cars.
“About 100 percent of the time these kids are breaking into these cars because they are looking for handguns,” said Sgt. Archie Ezell. “If they get one or two and break into in 100 cars, it’s going to be a success for them.”
Police said this has led to an alarming increase in teens arming themselves and getting a gun is just the first step. Sgt. Ezell said young gang members start out with car break-ins and move onto carjackings, armed robberies, home invasions and even murder.
Investigators said despite their efforts, repeat offenders out on bond continue to commit crimes and it frustrates them just as much as it frustrates the public when they put time and effort into a case, only to see a repeat offender back out on the streets.
“Sometimes things do not go the way you want them to go, but that is not going to stop us from doing what we have to do,” said Sgt. Ezell.
The gang unit focuses on different parts of the city that they said mostly is made up by the Bloods gang.
An area of the city where police said they get a lot of calls is the Ninth Ward, which encompasses parts of southwest and northwest Atlanta and where officers said gang members filmed what they call a disturbing video.
Police said the people you see in the video are gang members. You can see them flashing guns and cash. The Atlanta Police Gang Unit said the video shows just how brazen gang members have become, willing to post the video on the internet.
“This day and age everybody is on social media and kids are posting things, adults are posting things and it offers up some information for investigations and sometimes it doesn’t, but we try to keep up to date,” said Sgt. Ezell.
The gang unit wants to reassure the public that they are on top of the growing problem and said sometimes in order to get it right, it will take time.
“I have been policing Atlanta for 30 years and I feel like Atlanta is my home and I hate to see anything where citizens feel like they are being victimized all the time, we feel that pain just like they feel that pain,” said Sgt. Ezell
And in the end for these officers, it is not just a job, its personal.
“I grew up in an environment similar to this and I like talking to kids basically giving them another side of the coin to show them that we are not all out here to get them we are trying to rehabilitate and teach them better ways of doing things so they don't come across our desks because by the time they come across my desk it’s too late,” said Investigator Dennis.