Gangs Still a Concern

Thursday, July 1, 2004
Criminal street gangs and prison-based gangs, as all law enforcement professionals know, are a persistent challenge for our communities. Gang activity harms neighborhoods, families and schools in many ways: from the defacement of property, truancy, and drug crimes, to the most serious offenses, including murder, not only of gang members but also of innocent bystanders. Gangs thrive on intimidation and publicity, and find violence necessary to establish and maintain their reputation.



My office is committed to helping in every way possible. One important way we are helping the law enforcement community is through the Gang Resource System (GRS). The GRS provides law enforcement, prosecutors and criminal and juvenile justice agency personnel with quick access to gang intelligence and prosecution information statewide. Details on local gangs, their identifiers and criminal activities, and relevant photos can be accessed by county, city or gang name. The secure web site also contains information on gang-related investigations, prosecution strategies, officer safety and intelligence bulletins. To request a secure ID, send an e-mail request to gangs@oag.state.tx.us.



The OAG also offers gang and juvenile justice-related training programs for parents, teachers and the law enforcement community. We have published a curriculum, called "Consequences," to teach young people about the criminal justice system and the importance of making good decisions. We work with the Texas Gang Investigators Association, the Texas Violent Gang Task Force and law enforcement agencies statewide to plan regional gang investigator conferences and monthly gang intelligence meetings, and to promote effective gang prevention, intervention and suppression strategies. We have worked to improve communication, information-sharing and awareness, to promote a shared vocabulary and to provide information about best practices and effective enforcement strategies.



For more than ten years now, the Office of the Attorney General has been monitoring gang activity in Texas by inviting Texas law enforcement agencies to report the level and nature of gang activity in their own jurisdictions.



We have just completed a new survey. In this year of very tight budget constraints, the survey was conducted online. We are making every effort to communicate with law enforcement agencies through electronic means, but we recognize that not all departments have online access. Therefore, we welcome hardcopy participation in the survey as well.



To date, 179 law enforcement agencies have submitted data for the survey. Respondents from smaller municipalities and less populous counties greatly outnumber those from major population centers. Of these, 39% serve jurisdictions with fewer than 10,000 people, 31% are from jurisdictions with 10,000 to 50,000 residents and 30% are from jurisdictions with more than 50,000 people. The smaller jurisdictions, who although they report a gang presence, are less likely to have serious gang issues. However, results in larger cities and more populous counties suggest that major urban centers and larger cities are still experiencing considerable gang activity. In cities and counties with between 100,000 and 500,000 residents, 30% reported that gangs are one of the most serious law enforcement problems they face. In the major metropolitan areas, 39% reported that gangs are a serious problem.



Respondents were also asked about the level of gang activity in their schools. Again, the larger jurisdictions are more likely to report a problem. While 71% of the smallest cities and counties reported that gangs are not a problem in schools, nearly one quarter of those with more than 100,000 residents reported that gangs in schools are a very serious problem, and another 45% report it is a somewhat serious problem.



Departments across the board reported that most gang members fall into the 16 to 18-year age bracket. Most reported that delinquent youth gangs are the most prevalent type of gang, and in many small jurisdictions they are the only kind of gang present. Other types of gangs (turf-based, gain oriented and violence/hate-based gangs) are reported more frequently as the jurisdiction size increases.



Respondents were asked to gauge the effectiveness of a variety of enforcement and intervention/prevention strategies commonly used to reduce gang activity. Curfews were generally rated the most effective prevention strategy, particularly by smaller departments. Larger departments also reported that they found community awareness gang training and GED programs to be effective.



Jurisdictions with fewer than 50,000 residents reported that truancy and curfew enforcement and community policing were the most effective enforcement strategies. Larger jurisdictions generally supported curfew enforcement and community policing as well, but many also reported success using graffiti abatement and code enforcement.



If your agency would like to submit information for the gang survey, contact Robert Martinez or Tami Schroeder in the Juvenile Crime Intervention Section at (512) 463-4024. The survey can be completed either online or by mail.

General Abbott's signature
Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

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