COVINGTON - The Newton County Sheriff's Office launched a new Web page earlier this week dedicated to addressing the growing problem of gangs in the area.
The Web page, www.newtongangs.org, not only informs residents about how they can spot gang activity in their community but also allows NCSO personnel and officers from surrounding law enforcement agencies to exchange information related to gangs and gang members.
It will also feature a tip line for residents who have questions or concerns about gangs, which will send e-mail messages to NCSO investigators responsible for tracking gang activity. The tip line, which will also have a link on the NCSO's main Web site, www.newtonsheriffga.org, will be anonymous, but those wanting a response from investigators should leave their contact information.
"We depend on information from the community about these things ... whether it's graffiti, gatherings or any other information about gang activity," said Newton County Sheriff Joe Nichols. "(Gangs) are a growing problem in the metro area."
According to Microsystems Specialist Brandon Esque, the NCSO has been working for about a month to the get the new Web page up and running. He said the Henry County Police Department was responsible for writing the database for the law enforcement portal on the page and that they were sharing that with the NCSO and surrounding law enforcement agencies.
"It was written so that several counties can share this information," he said.
Esque added that investigators and deputies will also be able to access pictures of known gang members, along with their various scars, marks and tattoos through the database.
"We, as law enforcement officers, will have a database where we can store information in relation to gang activity in the county. This way we'll have a central location where we can store the information," said Investigator James Fountain, who works with Investigator Mickey Kitchens and an agent with the Covington/Newton County Special Investigations Unit on the NCSO's gang unit. "The officers on the street will be able to research in that database if they come in contact with a subject that they suspect may be involved in gang activity. They can do a search within the database, and if he shows up anywhere within Newton County, Henry County or DeKalb County, that information will pop up ... in relation to whether he's ever been involved in gang activity. It's a positive thing for us where it's going to enable us to better keep track of activity in Newton County."
As far as the page itself goes, Fountain said they offer tips to parents on how to recognize when their children may be becoming involved with gangs and how to combat it. He emphasized, however, that the impact the law enforcement portal on the page is going to have is tremendous.
"This is a joint effort between us, the city of Covington police, the city of Oxford police and the Porterdale police. For the first time since we started tracking gangs in 2001, we've actually got all the police agencies in Newton County in a unified effort to track and offer assistance for the gang activity," Fountain said.
Fountain encouraged residents who have questions or comments about the Web page to contact him so that any concerns can be addressed.
To access the new Web page, visit www.newtongangs.org or go to the NCSO's main Web site at www.newtonsheriffga.org and click on "gang information."
Authorities ask that anyone with questions or concerns about gangs to call the NCSO at 678-625-1403. Tips can be given to the NCSO anonymously at 678-625-5007 or via the Web at www.newtonsheriffga.org and clicking on "anonymous tip line." Those who want a response from NCSO personnel should leave contact information.
Joel Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org