Should You Be Afraid of Gangs in Savannah?

Gangs and groups. Two different sets of people – both with one goal, crime and money

A gang has national affiliation, an organized heirarchy and no specified location.
A group is usually people who know each other, grew up together,and is confined to a neighborhood.

Whatever you call them, both are dangerous and in Savannah right now committing crimes.

Now they are also under the close watch of Savannah-Chatham Metro Police.

“The high profile crimes are being committed by gangs or groups.” we asked.
“Yes. When we know we definitely put that out,” said Sgt Jonathan Pulaha, head of SCMPD Gangs and Guns unit.
“That still seems like a lot to the layman.”
“It is a lot. Those are not all active groups operating now. Some have gone defunct, some have gone to prison.”
“Is that a surprising number to the people listening?’
“Yes. But the resources and intelligence weren’t there before

Sgt Jonathan Puhala says SCMPD gangs and guns unit now knows more about these groups than ever, and is able to gather identify the criminals and people they may know.

“The resources have been put towards identifying group or gang members so when these incidents do happen we have the ability to determine whether they are in a group or gang and put that information out to the public,” said the Sgt.

“Making the connections, pushing info out to officers on the street every day so they are aware of what gang members are operating in their beats and their precincts,” explains Puhala. “Targeting people not neighborhoods.”

Started in October, that unit has seven investigators looking at people, weapons, and their connections to these dangerous people.

“Are you surprised as what you are finding in just a few months?”
“Yes. one of the issues is the number of people the other is the youth,” explained Puhala.
“We’ve seen 15 year olds. That are starting to affiliate, mainly with groups. the younger people are in groups. The ones in early 20’s are more gang members. but the crimes they are committing and the amount of violence, there is no difference.”

SCMPD says it knows of 70 gangs in our area.
But because gangs are fluid, members being arrested, leaving or sadly even dying, the numbers change every day.

What doesn’t change is the crimes. Crimes like the triple murder in Feiler Park, connected to gangs.
Two murders last year linked to the Gangster Disciples. A gang Puhala says has several hundred members in the area alone.

“Its not important to focus on the label you put on them,’ said Puhala. “For identification and investigatory purpose. When you are dealing with crimes like this names don’t matter.”

What does matter is the impression people who live in Savannah have.

A triple murder, double murder and another homicide all in a couple week span have many folks worried. Sgt Puhula is aware of that thought.

“When you have several murders that happened in a short time frame its justified to have that fear that concern. The vast majority of these crimes the victim is known to the offender.”

“None of the incidents that happened in city market or the historic district that are more high profile than others, we have not been able to determine if they are group or gang involved.”

“Its hard to prove a negative so how many murders of how many violent crimes have not been committed because of what we are doing. But we have definitely arrested those that have guns or that we suspect have been involved in other crimes.”

The Gangster Disciples found that out. More than a dozen arrests, 4 under indictment already.. more identified or behind bars.

Police say its a message getting out, one criminal at a time.

“What will happen is if they don’t heed the message and they commit crimes then what happened to them is going to happen to you,” said Puhala.

Puhala says his unit is starting “at ground zero” after years of limited or no information gathered.

But 42 days without a homicide already earlier this year, more federal prosecutions, and more indictments prove hard work in a short time can make a difference.

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