Public Safety: The Menace of Criminal Street Gangs Recruiting Our Youth By District Attorney Susan K. TreadawayThe FBI estimates 50,000 gang members in metro Atlanta, and the Georgia Gang Investigators Association has identified 70,000+ statewide. The threat is real. However, gangs cannot thrive without recruitment, which is why they target our children. Criminal street gangs engage in drug and/or human trafficking, organized crime, theft, and violent crimes. They prey on the vulnerable, particularly youth, who search for a sense of belonging, identity, and protection. Georgia has experienced an alarming rise in gang recruitment of youth, prompting Gov. Brian Kemp to sign legislation that increases the minimum penalty for those who recruit children under 17 to participate in acts that violate the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. Passage of this enhanced punishment serves as a warning to offenders that, in Georgia, we will go after those who go after our children.When a crime is committed in Cherokee County, all perpetrators are held accountable. But, if we can prevent a child from ever becoming a gang member, we all win.Recruitment Tactics Used by GangsSocial Networks — Gang members recruit through personal connections, targeting individuals who have friends or family in gangs. Through existing relationships, they exert influence and pressure. They also use social media to glamorize criminal activities, showcase their lifestyle, promote an illusion of success, and lure youth into their ranks.Intimidation and Coercion — Gangs use threats, violence, and fear to compel youth to join. Through these means, they manipulate young individuals into becoming part of their criminal activities.Offering Protection and Status — Gangs provide a false sense of security, promising protection from rival gangs and offering a feeling of belonging. They lure the vulnerable by presenting gang affiliation as a means toi gain respect, recognition, and social status.Financial Incentives — Gangs exploit economic vulnerability by offering financial rewards. They present illegal activities as lucrative opportunities, enticing youth who are desperate for financial stability.Everyone can help combat gang recruitment by creating strong networks and support systems for our youth. Communities can provide alternatives to gangs by offering positive role models, mentorship programs, and safe spaces. Schools and educational programs can raise awareness about the dangers of gang involvement. Teaching young individuals about the consequences and risks associated with gangs helps them make informed decisions and resist recruitment attempts.Law enforcement, social services, and local organizations can collaborate to develop intervention strategies aimed at identifying at-risk youth and provide support, counseling, and opportunities for personal development. Investment in law enforcement resources and intelligence gathering capabilities can aid in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of gang activities. Disrupting the operations of criminal street gangs can deter potential recruitment efforts. The District Attorney’s Office Gang & Organized Crime Unit works collaboratively with law enforcement partners in these efforts, and we hold offenders accountable.By addressing the underlying factors that contribute to gang recruitment and implementing targeted prevention and intervention strategies, we can protect our youth, provide them with positive alternatives, and create safer communities for everyone. We must work together to break the cycle of gang violence and secure a brighter future for Cherokee’s youth.