By JENNIFER HORTONThe Wilson Post
About 100 local, state and federal law officers fanned out last night in a joint operation to arrest 83 individuals suspected of participating in illegal gang activities to include murder.
The operation, headed up by the City of Lebanon Police Department with the assistance of the Wilson County Sheriff’s Department, Mt. Juliet Police Department, Watertown Police Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, State Probation and Parole Office, U.S. Marshal’s Office and FBI, got underway a briefing held at the Major Gen. Carl D. Wallace National Guard Armory on Leeville Pike late yesterday afternoon.
Lebanon Commissioner of Public Safety Billy Weeks said gang activity has become an increasing problem not just for Lebanon but the entire county. Even so, much of it does occur in the city as gang members come to Lebanon and commit crimes in the federal public housing complexes here.
In addition, he noted, the area on and near West Adams is also a target from time to time of illegal activity.
“We intend to put a stop to it,” Weeks said.
Some of the individuals authorities were looking for last night were wanted for questioning in homicides, said Sheriff Terry Ashe during a press conference held prior to the briefing for law enforcement.
“We’re not going to stop it all tonight,” Ashe said of the gang activity, “we’re going to put a dent in it.”
Weeks said he and Ashe have been discussing how best to handle the increasing problem and sought the assistance of other law enforcement agencies.
Weeks said they hope to be able to charge some of the individuals arrested under the federal RICO statutes which carry much stronger penalties.
He noted that authorities in Nashville were doing a good job in battling the gang problem there, but some of the gang members have come to Wilson County from Nashville to conduct their business. “We’re going to do our best to send them back to them.”
Of the approximately 100 officers that were to be out last night looking for the suspects, about 35 of them were Lebanon Police officers. “This is going to triple that amount.”
In the 30 years he has been in law enforcement, Weeks noted “this is the most dangerous time I’ve ever seen for young men and women (in law enforcement) to work the street.” He said that is because of the automatic weapons many in gangs carry and use.
Weeks said Lebanon will soon report a lower crime rate for last year, but one or two bullets an inch away from where they struck in some individuals would have resulted in homicides.
“This is a big initiative,” he added.
Weeks and Ashe noted that THP would be setting up roadblocks in conjunction with local law enforcement in the housing projects to try and block those suspects who attempt to leave.
The FBI agents involved will also be looking for suspects. Weeks said they can proceed a bit differently and enter a residence if they have a reasonable suspicion.
Ashe noted that not only would housing projects be the focus of law enforcement last night but so would some apartment complexes that have been identified as places where suspected gang members reside or visit.
Ashe provided a handout to the media which quoted state law defining a gang as “a formal, or informal, ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons who may have common identifying sign, symbol, or name and who individually, or collectively engage in, or have engaged in, criminal activity, or as a juvenile commits an act that if committed by an adult would be a criminal act (TCA 39-11-106).”
He said if three people show you their colors, that is, certain colors of clothing or hats or bandanas that to him means they are in a gang.
In addition, he noted, correction officers at the county jail have been photographing tattoos on suspects who have been brought in for booking because they are another sign of belonging to gangs.
Ashe and Weeks noted that once the operation began last night, word would get out in the community and some of the suspects being sought would leave the area. “It’s a small town, you can’t hardly keep a secret here,” Ashe said.
The sheriff noted that officials with the Lebanon Housing Authority was “100 percent on board with this,” and added also that new Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead who was present last night for the briefing, was also supportive of the effort.
“We’re all working together,” Ashe said.
One member of the media asked about the cost of the operation in terms of the overtime involved. Weeks replied, “It won’t cost as much as one homicide.”
Ashe agreed, adding you cannot put a price on a homicide and suffering felt by the family members.
The sheriff said operations such as this cost a lot, but they were worth a lot to solve crimes.
Editor Jennifer Horton may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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