COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – News Leader 9 sat down with the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office for an in-depth conversation about the gang activity across the city of Columbus.
When it comes to local gangs, The Muscogee County Sheriff's Office keeps the latest information on known gang members processed into the county jail.
Corporal Jeremy Hattaway says the data shows many inmates have ties to what law enforcement calls "traditional gangs."
"We have all the main food groups, so to speak, here in Columbus. Your traditional gangs, which is going to be your "Bloods," "Crips," "Gangster Disciples," Cpl. Jeremy Hattaway said.
Hattaway says it's the neighborhood gangs that are coming together and it's localized in Columbus.
In recent weeks, however, law enforcement in Columbus arrested five suspects, ages 16 to 20, all linked to a group that now brands itself as the "Zohannon" gang.
"We think that it may derive from 'Zoe Pound' - which is a gang that comes from Haiti, and the Miami area, who's a drug-pushing gang," Cpl. Jeremy Hattaway said.
Beyond this particular gang, an undercover task force recently arrested 12 suspects all charged with Criminal Gang Activity. The youngest just 12 years old.
The Sheriff's Office tells News Leader 9 local gangs like "Zohannon" are unique, in that their members not only look for much younger recruits but also use other well-established gangs like the bloods, crips and gangster disciples to grow their operation.
"One thing that's unique about the localized gangs in Columbus is a lot of these members also identify as being members of some of these traditional gangs, and bringing in their tactics, techniques, procedures," says Cpl. Hattaway. "That's helped them to recruit a younger crowd. That's what we're seeing now - a lot of very young people that are involved in that, and they're major crimes."
This may lead to serving time, so they seek a connection with the bigger gangs to ensure they have some sort of 'protection' if they're sent to jail or prison.
Cpl. Hattaway says, "They know that there's a chance they could go to prison. Being in these other gangs, the traditional ones - Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Ghostface gangsters: a predominantly white gang - they know that they're not going to be protected under a local Columbus gang. So they enter into these other gangs to have their protection, be safe, and operate within the prison confines."
Jail records show Sheriff Donna Thompkins' office has processed many new suspects that have no real ties to Columbus.
She says this may have something to do with recent gang activity.
Right now, the sheriff's office meets weekly with Columbus police to exchange all the latest information on gang activity.
They even share this with the District Attorney's office so that they're all on the same page