2018-07-12 / Front Page

Gang activity has impact; substance abuse prevalent

Toombs Circuit Judge Britt Hammond (left) was welcomed as the speaker for the Washington Rotary Club by President Terry Boswell. Toombs Circuit Judge Britt Hammond (left) was welcomed as the speaker for the Washington Rotary Club by President Terry Boswell. Reporting that “some of the numbers are pretty scary,” Toombs Judicial Circuit Judge Britt Hammond told the Washington Rotary Club that while gangs and gang activity are indeed having an impact across the state, it’s hard to measure.

The latest nationwide FBI-published gang assessment report was in 2011 and Hammond referenced some of those figures. More importantly, however, he looked at state gang activity.

In 2010, he said, the Georgia General Assembly passed the Street Gang Terrorism Prevention Act (SGTPA), “finding at that time that Georgia was in a state of crisis over the violence that was being perpetrated by these gangs.”

A state survey was sent out last year and response has been somewhat slow, but with about 30 percent responding, Hammond reported that “some of these numbers are pretty scary.”

Some 35,000 individual gang members throughout the state were identified with expectations of topping 50,000 by the end of the survey.

“That is a tremendous amount of people,” he said. “But even more disturbing than that is that it is estimated that 70-80 percent of all violent crimes and property crimes are gang related.”

Investigations into the reasons for gang activity have yielded interesting results. According to Hammond, when questioned, gang members respond most often that they need to belong to something, they need love and approval, they need to accomplish something, and they need to work to do something.

“These are things that every human being needs and these people are finding them in organizations that are criminal,” he said.

“Historically, gangs have formed along racial, ethnic, and cultural lines but that’s not 100 percent true anymore,” he continued. “We are starting to see hybrid gangs form out of geographical areas like neighborhoods or even schools. They may not start in a violent or criminal manner but they sometimes later develop that.”

The judge verified that several cases have been prosecuted under the SGTPA in Wilkes County in the last 12 months. However, he did not offer a specific number.

Hammond also reported that substance abuse continues to be a prevalent problem with alcohol topping the list as the most commonly abused drug – 114 times more deadly than illegal drugs like marijuana. To give that some substance, he said, there were more than 19,000 DUI arrests statewide last year.

Furthermore, in 2010, the latest figures he had, health care costs for alcohol abuse amounted to $27 billion. Related costs, which include lost productivity and associated crime, amounted to $249 billion. “So that is having a tremendous impact on society,” he said.

Concerning prescription drugs, Hammond said five percent of the population uses prescription pain relievers for non-medical purposes.

“Look a little deeper and it’s troubling that more than six percent of 12-17 year olds use pain relievers for non-medical purposes,” he said. “That is significant because it can be a gateway drug. Marijuana is usually THE gateway drug.”

He further incidated that 100 percent of those in his reporting center say they started using with marijuana when they were between the ages of 11 and 13 and either a family member or a friend got them started.

That’s what led them to addictive drugs like methamphetamine, heroine, cocaine, and other narcotics.

“Treatment for addiction does help but the earlier the addiction occurs, the longer it lasts and the harder it is to overcome,” Hammond said

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