Law enforcement combats growing gang population

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A recently released statewide assessment of gangs in Texas shows there were an estimated 100,000 gang members in the state in 2012. The report also highlights a changing dynamic in how traditionally rival gangs are now working together to turn a profit.

"Over half of these people are responsible for some of the most violent crimes that occur,' said Duane Steen, commander over the Department of Public Safety's Houston region.

Steen said crimes committed by gang members run the gambit from robberies to kidnappings to murders. In February 2012, Local 2 Investigates reported more than 25,000 gang-related crimes were committed in the Houston area.

"Anything that is illegal and lucrative in the way of making money and doing it illegally, they will be involved in," said Steen. "The growth of these gangs, the activities that they're involved in, can be very fluid. It can change from year-to-year."

Steen said many of the more than 2,500 gangs in the state are expanding their reach into crimes like human trafficking and continuing partnerships with Mexican drug cartels. According to the state report, the fastest-growing gang is Tango Blast. The report cites more than 10,000 members statewide, with the bulk of the gang members concentrated in the Houston area.

"Their members are free to come and go and loosely associate, but they don't have a very tightly-structured hierarchy," said Steen.

The state's report also noted the recent emergence of so-called "hybrid gangs." The report defines this as members of different gangs working together to achieve a specific goal.

"It's more profitable to cooperate as opposed to killing one another," said Steen.

Another gang cited by the report as becoming an increasing threat is the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. The report cites "the gang's large membership numbers and consistent level of violence." Traditionally the Brotherhood derived its power from inside prison, but state officials said that is changing.

"They're criminal enterprise on the outside today is 10 times what it was just a few years ago," said Bruce Toney, inspector general for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The growing threat from gang violence prompted the creation of the Texas Anti-Gang Initiative. This effort created a network of federal, state and local investigators who share information and resources. The state report cited nearly 150 high-ranking gang members who were arrested in 2012 during multiple operations under the auspices of this initiative.

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