City DopeNews

District Attorney Proposes Special Unit to Prosecute Gang Crimes

Western Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez.

District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez is asking the Athens-Clarke County Commission for $250,000 to create a unit devoted specifically to prosecuting gang-related cases.

The unit would consist of a prosecutor, victim advocate and investigator who are specially trained to handle gang cases. Currently such cases are randomly assigned to one of eight assistant DAs, depending on who is in which court that day. 

ACC has seen an uptick in gang crimes since the start of the pandemic, which Gonzalez attributed to services being suspended and local schools going virtual, and the pandemic also created a backlog of cases in general while the courthouse was closed. While Athens had just four murders in 2022, illegal gun seizures were up 30 percent. The police department’s gang task force has expanded from three to 17 officers. 

Gonzalez said her office has received assistance from Attorney General Chris Carr’s gang unit, which has seven attorneys and statewide concurrent jurisdiction, as well as a specialist with the Georgia Prosecuting Attorney’s Council. “They can help us, but they cannot deal with the amount of cases we have,” she told the commission at a Jan. 12 work session (rescheduled from Jan. 10 so Commissioner Allison Wright could attend a B-52s concert).

But some commissioners questioned the additional expense because Gonzalez already has nine assistant DA positions that are unfilled. She said they’re vacant because the county’s pay scale isn’t competitive with other circuits. “They can go 30 minutes down the road and get 20 or 30 thousand dollars more,” she said. That means the remaining prosecutors are overworked with 250-300 cases each when the average is 150.

The commission is scheduled to vote on a mid-year budget adjustment Feb. 7, but could also wait until the normal budget process in May and June to fund the unit or adjust the DAs budget to raise salaries and redefine positions.

Separately, ACC police announced last week that overall crime was down 1 percent in 2022. Crimes against people fell 13 percent, robberies fell 33 percent, and burglaries fell 11 percent. Police conducted an additional 2,000 traffic stops, which they said led to an 11 percent reduction in crashes. Traffic deaths dropped from 24 in 2021 to 10.