While not all the young people who participated in the focus groups would have agreed with the statement about finding drugs and alcohol being the center of teen life in the area, clearly these patterns of activity were present and kept law enforcement busy. The same could probably be said for many if not most communities, but it is noteworthy that here both young people and the police agree that the police keep a close watch.
Youth gang activity, in contrast to the partying just described, has not been prominent in this area, despite the fact that widespread increases in youth gang prevalence were reported during the 1990s, particularly in suburban areas in which such activity had not been seen previously (Miller, 2001). Everyone mentioned one particular group of young people who had been criminally active in the mid-1990s and at one point styled themselves as a gang in the manner of the Los Angeles-based groups so prominent in the movies and popular music at that time. That group, interracial in composition, had centered around one particular individual and dispersed when he was arrested and incarcerated after the group set fire to a church. This same individual was also implicated in the syphilis epidemic. There were no reports, however, of anything resembling a gang war, presumably because it takes more than one gang to make a war.
According to official statistics and interviews, Rockdale County is a low-crime area in which much of the crime that does occur consists of relatively low-level offenses, with very little serious violence. T.J. Solomon’s offenses were utterly unlike the normal patterns of crime in the area, in stark contrast to other patterns of fighting among youth and the few other cases of lethal or potentially lethal violence.
Two law enforcement jurisdictions served the area, the Rockdale County sheriff’s department and the city of Conyers police department. During our brief field visits, the representatives of these agencies conveyed an impression of progressive professionalism. They were highly cooperative with us, over and above providing the access to their records required under Georgia law. There have been no scandals in this county, unlike neighboring DeKalb, where the local sheriff was murdered just prior to our visits, allegedly in connection with kickbacks and extortion involving vendors to the county’s correctional system.
The juvenile court judge described a breakdown of cases before him that is probably typical of this kind of middle-class area: 35 to 40 percent involving family concerns such as ungovernable youth; 15 to 20 percent involving acting out at school; and about 40 percent involving crimes related to illegal drugs and theft. Rockdale County does not have its own juvenile detention facility and sends those in need of secure confinement to neighboring Lawrenceville, as long as they are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.