Macon had seven shootings and three slayings during just one week this year. With a rise in homicides — many tied to gang activity — some people are calling the city "little Chicago," said Lt. Cedric Penson, the gang unit leader with the Bibb County Sheriff's Office.
With a population of around 2.7 million, Chicago has had more than 500 homicides this year. Macon has a fraction of the residents, but it has seen almost 30 homicides.
A $200,000 Project Safe Neighborhoods grant aims to decrease violent gang activity and gun crimes across Middle Georgia. The project will give the Sheriff's Office technology to trace weapons used in violent crimes, said Charles Peeler, the new U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, during a session at Middle Georgia State University on Thursday.
The system will allow officers to identify shell casings from crime scenes and then link the weapons used and suspects involved to other incidents in the community, state and nation, Sheriff David Davis said. Leads on gun-crime suspects will be used for local, state and federal prosecution of gun and gang offenders.
Middle Georgia State University, a partner in the project, will do data analysis to get a better picture of the gang problem in this area, Davis said. The university's Department of Psychology, Sociology and Criminal Justice, Grants and Contracts office and Center for Applied Research and Education are part of the initiative, as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Warner Robins Police Department and other local, state and federal agencies.
Director of Institutional Research Michael Gibbons will be the principal investigator for the grant, and psychology instructor Courtney Stavely will be involved with research data analysis.
The grant dollars will have an immediate impact in helping the community, Peeler said.
During a presentation, Penson talked about how gangs operate, gangs that exist in Macon and their identifiers, and recent gang-related crimes. He mentioned victims such as 14-year-old Ta’shuntis Roberts, who was killed in a drive-by shooting while inside her home in December 2015. Aquallo Davis Jr. was fatally shot outside the Club Status nightclub in September 2015.
“A 14-year-old kid should not have died in my city, especially when that kid was doing nothing but sitting home watching TV on her couch," Penson said. "It’s heart-wrenching.”
Macon's known gangs include the Crips, Bloods, Mafia, YSG (Young Savage Goons), BSG (Bottom Side Gangstas), PMC (Purple Money Clique), Blacc Team and MS-13. The Sheriff's Office has had the most problems with the Crips, Mafia and Blacc team, Penson said. The gangs often stretch between Macon, Atlanta, Savannah and Florida.
It's not uncommon for members of different gangs to be seen together in Macon, but they can turn against each other quickly when there are disagreements.
The Sheriff's Office is communicating often with the District Attorney's Office about developing better strategies to combat the gang problem, Penson said. Investigators have to look at the whole picture when dealing with gang activity, not just the colors and signs that members use.