EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of an ongoing series examining violent crime in communities, particularly Milledgeville. Today’s article looks at area drive-by shootings. We’d like to hear your thoughts on the issue as well. Later, we will examine the criminal prosecution of these crimes. We’d like your feedback. Email story suggestions and/or feedback on violent crime in our community to email@example.com.
Gang violence is behind the overwhelming majority of area drive-by shootings that have occurred so far this year.
There have been more than 100 such crimes this year alone, The Union-Recorder has learned, and the numbers are on the increase.
On average, at least one drive-by happens in the city or county each week.
Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord said 90 percent of these types of crimes occurring in the city coincide with a crime in the county’s jurisdiction and vice versa.
Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Brad King, who heads the criminal investigation division, agreed.
The two veteran lawmen also agree that the majority of drive-by shootings that happen in the city and county are related to gang activity.
“We obviously have a problem when it comes to drive-by shootings, just looking at the numbers,” Swicord told the newspaper during a Monday morning telephone interview. “The beef is from the southside to the northside. They usually happen within hours of each other or just a day or two apart at the longest.”
These kinds of crimes are being committed by gang members living in Milledgeville and Baldwin County.
“It boils down to a gang issue, but I try to stay away from that because I don’t want to give them (gangs) any credit,” Swicord said. “I just think it’s best to categorize the crimes as a gang problem, but not name them. This is a beefing problem and I think that’s the problem everywhere — not just in Milledgeville and Baldwin County.”
King said he doesn’t attribute every area drive-by shooting to gangs, but the vast majority of such crimes committed in Milledgeville and Baldwin County are carried out by gang members.
“Some of them could be domestic-related, but the vast majority are territorial,” King said.
Swicord said he thinks the COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role in the number of drive-by shootings over the past year and a half.
“A lot of the ones committing these types of crimes didn’t have to go to school, so basically they had idle time on their hands,” Swicord said.
Locally, there are three known criminal gangs, according to King — The Pirus, The Bloods and The Gangster Disciples.
Just last weekend, there were at least two drive-by shootings that happened in the county, King said, but as has been the case in the majority of the shootings, there were no reported injuries.
“We have been very fortunate that we haven’t had a lot more victims shot or killed than we have,” King said. “Think about the pure potential of numerous rounds fired blindly into a house. Really and truly, you have the possibility that everyone in that house could have been injured and or killed every time that happens. If you looked at the sheer numbers, good Lord, it would look like a military battlefield.”
One of the worse years on record for drive-by shootings happened between 2015 and 2016 when there were well more than 100 drive-bys within the city and county.
“The real, real bad year was 2015,” King recalled. “It was just astronomical.”
Federal authorities helped local authorities curtail the shootings by making several arrests.
“Federal authorities help us all the time,” King said. “When we talk about fed involvement with cases like this, they help us with some of the processing of evidence and things like that because the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime labs are so backlogged.”
When it comes to curtailing such crimes, it’s difficult.
“By nature, these are hard crimes to solve,” King said. “You just about have to see it (crime) happen.”
Or there has to be a deputy patrolling in the immediate area when a drive-by shooting happens, King sad.
Despite the evidence gathered at crime scenes, it still doesn’t always guarantee a suspect and an arrest, King said.
“I’m interested in who did it first and then I will get to why,” King said. “And I might not get to why at all. I may never exactly why it happened. But I’m looking at who did it first.”
The majority of drive-by shootings occur after midnight and in the wee morning hours when victims are preparing to go to bed or they already are asleep.
The latest such shooting happened Monday at 1:15 a.m., King said.
“Your frequency on having a witness to a shooting that happens at that time in the morning is very low,” King said.
The veteran detective said that is another reason why such crimes are difficult to solve.
It stems from a manpower shortage.
Swicord said one of the important issues right now is learning how to support law enforcement with better pay, how to retain officers, and how to recruit officers.
“Because (Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee) is short and I’m short when it comes to personnel,” Swicord said. “It comes down to manpower and money.”
The chief said it’s also paramount to have the public’s assistance.
“We can’t do a whole lot without the public giving us information,” Swicord said.
He said there are several residents and witnesses who are scared to come forward because they think something could happen to them or a member of their family, the police chief said.
“We still need the public’s assistance to help us solve these types of crimes and other crimes that are happening in our community,” Swicord said.
“To truly curtail this type of behavior, there has to be a community-wide effort,” King said.
Anyone with information about such crimes, or crimes in general, is urged to call the Milledgeville Police Department crime tip line at 478-414-4413 or the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office crime tip line at 478-445-5102.