FULTON COUNTY, Ga. - Authorities said store robberies, carjackings and shoot-outs have been tracked back to gangs. While investigators are working the streets making arrests, FOX 5 has learned the problem only moves from the streets to inside the jail.
“I have been doing this for 30 years,” said Fulton County Chief Jailer, Colonel Mark Adger. “I am seeing the children and grandchildren of the inmates that were in jail when I first started.”
Col. Adger has seen a lot in his three decades as a law enforcement officer, but for this tough man there is something new he is seeing behind the closed doors of the jail that tugs at his heartstrings.
“The disregard for their own lives and by that I mean the inmates, especially young ones,” said Colonel Adger. “The ones that are coming here between the ages of 17-24 who do not think they are going to make it past the age of 25.”
According to authorities there are more than 135 gangs in the city of Atlanta and police said the more gang members, the more crimes are committed. When gang members are convicted, they usually end up at the Fulton County Jail.
“They are not reachable to some degree we have to find ways to get around that and to make that outreach possible,” said Col. Adger.
Colonel Adger said they have always dealt with gangs, but now instead of two rival groups like the Bloods or the Crips, the jail is dealing with several neighborhood versions of the mainstream gangs in a confined, stressful environment.
“It's not just the gang on gang conflict, but it's the intra gang conflict that exists as well,” said Col. Adger. “Gang members enforcing gang rules on their membership.”
The colonel said because of the constant threat of violence, sometimes an inmate looking for protection will connect themselves to other gang members inside the jail in order to survive, but once they serve their time, they do not realize the same rules on the inside apply out on the streets.
“Once they leave the jail and they are back out on the streets in their neighborhoods, the gangs still enforces those rules upon them and a lot of the violence you see on the street stems for what occurred here in the jail,” said Col. Adger.
The colonel said in 2015 the jail established a special operation's team to quickly respond to violent, critical situations. It is called DART, the Direct Action Response Team, which was established in 2015.
“To sum it up we are like SWAT inside the jail,” said DART Detention Officer Michael Holt. “Anytime there is a problem or issue with inmates upstairs they call us to diffuse the situation.”
Most of the DART members are trained gang investigators. The colonel said keeping up with gang activity is not just something done out on the streets, adding that officers also gather information inside the jail.
“We see certain things like tattoos, we do an interview with them find out what their level of involvement is, what they may be connected to, who their known associates are, so that we can populate that information in the gang database,” said Col. Adger.
The jail shares this information with other law enforcement officers and the district attorney's office. Colonel Adger said they could do more to keep gang members off the street, but their outdated equipment hinders their ability to gather evidence and build cases. The colonel said their surveillance system is 30 years old.
“For evidentiary purposes it's useless and we have been trying to get the county to upgrade our equipment here for the past five years,” said Colonel Adger.
In addition to upgraded technology, the chief jailer said they could use about another 100 officers and he would like to improve the access inmates have to programs and services.