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Fulton DA’s office to lead new anti-crime program in county schools amid gang fears, crime spike

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, in highlighted box at center, speaks at the March 24 virtual meeting of the Buckhead Public Safety Task Force, where she addressed the felony disposition backlog and many other issues.

By John Ruch

The Fulton County District Attorney’s office is preparing to launch an anti-crime education program in some Fulton public schools, a move intended to block gang recruitment in a system whose crime reports have skyrocketed.

The program, dubbed “Reach,” will launch in August for the 2022-2023 school year in eight Fulton County School System (FCS) locations in College Park, East Point, Hapeville, South Fulton and Union City. They include Banneker, Creekside and Tri-Cities high schools; Bear Creek, McNair and Paul D. West middle schools; and the PEAK Academies in Hapeville and Union City.

FCS spokesperson Anne Boatwright said “the curriculum will focus on integrity, leadership, goal-setting and vision casting. There will also be gang awareness work as well as instruction on understand[ing] money and credit.”

The DA’s office created the curriculum and two of its employees will facilitate each meeting of the program, which will be offered weekly each semester during the class day for small groups.

“The groups will be a discussion-based format with hands-on activities like creating vision boards,” said Boatwright, adding that “plans are in the works to include invited special guests like athletes and entertainers and possible weekend retreat and parent and student sessions.”

The DA’s office did not respond to questions about the program, which FCS previously was being called “Leaders Evolving Around a Designed System” or “LEADS.”

District Attorney Fani Willis referred to the then-in-development program as “justice classes” at a March meeting of the Buckhead Public Safety Task Force, where she described it as part of her war against gang crime and the recruitment of youths into them.

“Oh, I bet you think this is a problem that applies only to boys. You would be wrong,” Willis said at that meeting. She said girls are often recruited into gangs, particularly for sex trafficking.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Brett Pinion said in the same task force meeting that DA’s office staff members already were holding some gatherings with FCS students and law enforcement officers as a way of warning them about the possible legal trouble of getting into crime.

“We are trying to attack this issue because as everybody would expect, it’s showing up in the schools – what we’re seeing on the streets,” Pinion said.

Around the same time, FCS Superintendent Mike Looney publicly complained of a large crime increase in the system’s schools and gained Fulton Board of Education support for increased penalties against students who commit serious offenses.

FCS Police Department data obtained by SaportaReport through an open records request show a huge increase in crime reports in the 2021-2022 school year compared to the previous year – more than three times higher. And the numbers are likely even higher because the data runs only through April 26 due to lengthy delays in FCS delivering it.

As of April 26, the entire FCS system had 755 crime reports, compared to 224 reports for the entire 2020-2021 school year.

The 2021-2022 reports included some categories of serious crime that were not reported at all in the previous year, including two rapes, three kidnappings or abductions, one statutory rape and one report of human trafficking in the form of commercial sex acts. Aggravated assault reports rose from two to 25. Weapons law violations rose from eight to 85.

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