CONYERS - The U.S. Attorney's Office handles criminal and civil litigation, but is also on the forefront of protecting the country from terrorism.
"When you're the U.S. government ... you get sued for a lot of things," U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia David Nahmias said during Thursday's gathering of the Conyers Rotary Club. "But our highest priority to Georgia - and everybody all over the country - is to try to make sure there is not another terrorist attack."
He said if he were talking to the group in 2000, the way of thinking within the U.S. Attorney's Office would have been much different than it is today.
"(September 11) was a jolt to the system," Nahmias said.
At that time, he said, the U.S. Attorney's Office would gather evidence and prosecute criminals after a crime occurred.
Things work a little differently now.
"We could have convicted all 19 hijackers, but they were all dead. That took a bit of a mind change," he said. "Our goal is not to get them after it happens, but to make sure it never happens again."
He said the government collects intelligence, deports people and, at other times, goes to war with foreign countries, to help prevent other attacks like what occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Think back to Sept. 12; everybody was so sure that we would be attacked again, but we weren't. We've gotten much better defensively," Nahmias said. "That enemy is still out there."
The enemy is changing, too, he said.
For example, he cited one case in which investigators discovered that terrorists overseas tried to bring their wives and children on the planes they planned to bomb so they would be less suspicious.
In addition to dealing with possible criminals abroad, the U.S. Attorney's Office is also concerned with home-grown terrorism, such as the case of Eric Robert Rudolph and the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, as well as local crime issues like gangs and drugs.
Nahmias said violent crime rates from 1993 to 2004 - the most recent data available - decreased about 50 percent nationally. The number of methamphetamine labs has dropped more than 80 percent during that time period. At the same time, the prison population has increased as well as the presence of Mexican drug agencies.
Nahmias said Atlanta is a large drug distribution center, especially among Hispanics, although most of the product is not used in the area. Rather, the drugs are shipped to other locations.
Nahmias also reported that drug use among teenagers has decreased by about 20 percent.
Initiating drug-free workplace programs and encouraging kids to say "no" to drugs, he said, will help decrease it even more.
However, gangs continue to be a problem. Parents and educators of teens need to make them aware of gang activity, Nahmias said.
"I can guarantee pretty much in every middle school and high school you have a gang presence," Nahmias said. "You might not want to see it, but particularly in middle schools, that's when gangs start recruiting."
He said students involved in after-school programs are less likely to get involved with gang activity, since that's when most initiations take place at that age.
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.