SPRINGFIELD, Tenn. (WKRN) – Just a few years ago, Springfield was a small town with big city crime.
The Robertson County town of around 16,000 had four murders. It may not seem like a lot, but according to the police chief, it made Springfield one of the top 10 most violent towns in Tennessee when you added other violent crimes happening there.
“We knew the violent crime rate was high,” said Chief David Thompson, who took over the department in 2011. “We started looking around to try to figure out why that was happening.”
At the same time, the Springfield Police Department started studying what was driving the increased violence in the town. The department also started looking into the gang activity in the town.
Detective Charles Consiglio took on the task of documenting the gangs in Springfield and maybe more importantly, the gang members living in the town.
“It seemed like every time you turned around every homicide that we had, every armed robbery that we had, and every aggravated assault we had, was gang related,” he said. “Nobody really wanted to address it I guess.”
But Chief Thompson was ready to address the gang problem because, despite widespread denial, gang activity was a part of Springfield and had been.
“I think we eventually identified 13 different gangs here,” he said. “A lot of them were classic, they were nationwide gangs, it was not just something that was a Springfield issue.”
Det. Consiglio began taking pictures of graffiti and keeping tabs on known gang members. The police also discovered the flow of gang members into Springfield was fed by state prisons and well-meaning families sending troubled teens to the rural town to escape inner city criminal activity.
“We found a lot of them here because when people get out of prison they bring their gang affiliation back to their hometown,” he said. “We also found especially with juveniles, people were sending them here because they didn’t think we had any gangs. But, really they were getting recruited into local gangs already here.”
In 2014, Springfield started working closely with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal law enforcement agencies.
“Law enforcement agencies in the Mid-State and throughout the country do a phenomenal job at protecting the communities and providing a safe environment for these communities,” ATF Special Agent Michael Knight said. “The ATF works with our resources and augments these local agencies in terms of our special agents who work in criminal investigations, our industry regulation investigators who work in the explosive or firearms industry, as well as our intelligence reports.”
For Springfield, the ATF helped them make undercover purchases of weapons from convicted felons. The ability for the ATF charge the criminals federally, allowed for stiffer punishments and the criminals being out of the Springfield community for a longer period of time.
“I have seen grown men when they were introduced to the ATF agent they literally sat there and cried because they knew they were going to federal court,” Chief Thompson said. “Once again we save this for the worst of the worst offenders.”
Bobby Miles Jr., Terry Phelps and Devin Dowlen are among the first three to be charged federally for weapons charges by the ATF under the partnership. Each man is serving a 10 year federal prison sentence.
“The ATF presence has really been a God send,” Det. Consiglio said. ”Once word got out of what we were doing it really slowed the flow.”
Detective Consiglio said some gang members got out of town while others just lay low. But he said there are still gangs and there are still gang-related crimes the department is fighting every day.
“We had our bloods, we had our vice lords, our GDs [Gangster Disciples] now their numbers aren’t as large,” he said. “Our most prevalent gangs that we have now are our homegrown gangs.”
Gangs, the detective said, are less about what affiliation they claim, but are more about the common goal of making money on the streets. It is called “Mobbing”
“They feel that as long as you are down with getting money, come with us,” Det. Consiglio said. “One known gang member has a shirt he posted a picture of to his Facebook page. It says his flag is red, my flag is blue, our flag is green and it has dollar signs. These guys aren’t necessarily looking at colors anymore. it is not really that important.”
He continued, “They have evolved beyond affiliation.”
Springfield police continue to work with federal partners, but also they work very closely with the Robertson County Sheriff’s Office and other neighboring law enforcement agencies.
The ATF is also asking people to download the agency’s ReportIt app. It allows people to report criminal activity and give tips to investigations involving the ATF anonymously.