When choosing an apartment, or even a place to spend a day off, local crime rates are a significant consideration for many. Raw crime data isn’t hard to find, but rarely does it mention whether that crime is organized or not. That’s unfortunate, because gang activity is a significant factor in predicting crime patterns, and often a sign of property owner complicity.
Funding for federal data collection on gangs was suspended in 2012, but the most recent figures indicate that gang-related violence accounts for at least 13% of homicides nationwide, and closer to 50% in many big cities. More recently, the U.S Attorneys for the Middle and Southern Districts of Georgia estimated the ratio to be even higher locally, potentially as high as 90%.
To combat Georgia’s organized crime problem, the Street Gang Terrorism Prevention Act imposes higher penalties for crimes committed in connection with a gang. It also specifically holds property owners accountable for harboring gang violence, by entitling victims to triple the damages they would be eligible for in cases of non-gang-related negligent security.
Gang Activities Are Often Carried Out with the Property Owner’s Knowledge and Approval
Gang violence is notoriously difficult to deter, but many owners of gang-frequented property are more complicit than helpless. In 2007, a man was beaten into a coma by at least four gang members at Six Flags Over Georgia, leaving him with permanent brain damage. Not only was the gang an everyday fixture of the park, but four of the members involved in the attack were employed there. Six Flags was ultimately found liable for $32 million in the attack.
In DeKalb County in 2018, a 17-year-old girl was gunned down by a gang member in the same apartment complex where a 4-year-old had been shot just one month earlier. Representatives of the company that owned the complex repeatedly lied in court about having no knowledge of the pervasive gang activity on the property. The lies were unsuccessful, and the triple damages awarded.
The Act Only Applies to Crime
Technically, gang membership is not illegal in and of itself. Such a law would violate the constitutional right to freedom of association, and would be almost impossible to enforce, given the difficulty of defining a “gang.” After all, most people belong to at least one group with a name, insignia, or set of rituals, whether it’s a fraternity/sorority, volunteer organization, book club, etc. If one member of such a group breaks a law, it doesn’t make the rest criminals.
For this reason, in order for the Act to apply, a perpetrator must not only be a member of a gang but also have committed “criminal gang activity,” such as tagging, racketeering, or weapons violations, to further the interests of the gang.
That said, if a group truly is a criminal gang, then an act of violence committed by one of its members is, by definition, not an isolated event. Therefore, gang-related tragedies on a given property generally indicate a landlord’s negligent failure to respond to previous crimes.
If you’ve been affected by such negligence, The Stoddard Firm can help. Contact us today to learn more about your options.