Gang members hoping to elude Hamilton County sheriff's officers by crossing into Georgia could have their efforts thwarted more easily, as law enforcement officials signed a Tennessee-Georgia cross designation agreement Thursday.
The agreement, first proposed in February by leaders of the recently formed Chattanooga Area Gang Enforcement initiative, or CAGE, will allow sheriff's officers in both Hamilton and Dade counties to collaborate in investigating and pursuing gang activity that crosses jurisdictional boundaries. Along with the two sheriff's offices, members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the FBI; the TBI; and the U.S. attorney's office are working to stifle a rise in local gang violence.
Boyd Patterson, coordinator for CAGE, said the agreement was a natural progression, which would compound on already existing relationships and allow officers to work more efficiently and effectively.
"We're used to working together and sharing information, and this is the next step," Patterson said. "There are still these jurisdictional boundaries in some respects, and gang members don't respect city, county or state borders. What this does is take our collaboration to the next level."
Under the agreement, certain officers will be allowed to pursue gang members across state and county lines. Patterson said communication between the Walker County and Hamilton County Sheriff's Offices would be important when intrastate operations were taking place. Smoothing out the agreement took members of each department more than six months.
Patterson said that a rise in Hispanic gang activity in the area surrounding Dalton, Ga., in the most recent decade led to a displacement strategy for law enforcement officers, essentially pushing gang activity into areas of North Georgia and Hamilton County. Now, officials will be able to follow where their investigations lead.
"In the past, if any investigation led us into another county or another state, there was a border we had to deal with," Patterson said. "Now, that's not an issue. There's no checkbox of these things that have to be in place before we can follow them into Walker County. Now, we just follow them into Walker County."
Updated @ 9:09 a.m. on 08/24/12 to correct a typographical error.