Crimewatch: APD's Gang Unit documents Austin-area gang members - | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Crimewatch: APD's Gang Unit documents Austin-area gang members

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A recent DPS report shows that gangs continue to be a major public safety threat in Texas, especially with members behind so many crimes.

Austin's growing gang presence even triggered the police department to create a new unit. We first told you about the street level gang unit in April.

One of the hot spots for gang activity and crime in Austin is in southeast part of town. Residents and police say the Dove Springs neighborhood is Bloods territory.

"Most of the people here that are affiliated with gangs are Dove Springs Posse which is a blood gang," Officer Figueroa said.

Michelle, a Dove Springs resident, doesn't want us to use her real name to protect her identity because she fears for her safety. She says her boyfriend is a Crip.

"What people are brought up doing is their own business. Some people, it's not all about the shootings, it's not all about the drugs. It's what they're brought up doing. Their father, their mother being in the gang so people are brought in," Michelle said.

Another Dove Springs resident, Paula East says the neighborhood is known for gang members.

"They [the gang members] stay in a lot of trouble, they cause a lot of problems," East said.

FOX 7 rode with APD's Street Gang Unit. Their mission is to document as many gang members as possible.

"The whole point is to keep a tally of who's out here engaging in organized crime which is what street gangs are," Figueroa said.

Officers pull over a blue car after the driver ran a stop sign and discovered a whole lot more. The driver tells police he is a member of the Tango Blast prison gang.

"He was highly tattooed all over his body, so I look for any kind of markings that may be either affiliated or establishing his membership in a gang. You have to have tattoos on the neck, wrist, are some of the most common areas," Officer Figueroa said.

One of the passengers didn't mind being stopped. He says there is a problem in Dove Springs.

"There's so much drama down here, I'm sorry can I say that? Alright, drama down here. It's pretty bad down here," Jonathan Urias said.

Because gang unit detectives are busy with that so called drama and are working local and federal cases these patrol officer's job is to find gang members, talk to them, and keep track of them.

You may not think Austin has a gang problem. Police say it's not as bad as Houston or San Antonio. But they say we have a significant gang presence and this new unit was created to keep them in check and not let them take over the town.

"I don't want to talk about this. I don't want to talk about this," a suspected gang member said.

Officers photographed the driver's tattoos. Texas law is specific about defining who is a gang member. If a person meets at least two of eight criteria, law enforcement can document that person as a gang member.

"There's dress, if they admit to being in a gang member, doing criminal activity consistent with gang activity," APD Officer Ivery said. "Tattoos, if they fly certain colors, if they dress a certain way appropriate to the area that they're in, visiting people in jail that are in prison gangs."

Several more criteria include evidence that the person used technology to recruit or solicit gang membership, evidence that the person frequents known gang areas with known gang members, if the person is identified by someone reliable, and if the person's id is corroborated by someone else. Under the law, two or more of these can make you a documented gang member.

"They need to get them off the streets," East said.

Street gang officers gather as much information as they can. So when someone they have come across commits a crime, punishment can be stricter for a documented gang member.

"It's a very big problem," Officer Ivery said.

According to Austin police, there were 2,700 confirmed gang members in 2011. Last year, that number dropped to 2,510 and so far this year, there are 2,512 confirmed gang members.

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