The same week that President Donald Trump pledged to decimate an international gang’s presence in the U.S., a state report included the group, MS-13, in a class referred to as “the greatest gang threat to Texas.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety’s annual report on gangs in the state says continued activity from criminal organizations such as Tango Blast, the Texas Mexican Mafia, the Bloods, the Crips and the Sureños poses a significant threat to public safety in Travis County and surrounding areas.
The 2017 Texas Gang Threat Assessment identifies gangs from every corner of Texas and ranks them according to the threat they pose to the public.
The assessment, released Tuesday, looks at each gang’s relationship with Mexican drug cartels, transnational criminal activity, level of violence, prevalence throughout the state, total strength, and involvement in human smuggling and trafficking, as well as several other factors to determine where it falls on a three-tier scale.
Among those listed as Tier 1 gangs operating in the state over the past year were familiar groups such as Tango Blast and its affiliated cliques, the Latin Kings, the Texas Mexican Mafia and Mara Salvatrucha, commonly referred to as MS-13.
“These four gangs continue to pose the greatest gang threat to Texas due to their relationships with Mexican cartels, consistent transnational criminal activity, statewide presence, and a high propensity for violence, among other significant factors,” the assessment said.
In a speech Friday, President Trump renewed his pledge to “decimate” MS-13, which he called a “vile criminal cartel.” He referred to members as animals and expressed his support for law enforcement.
“We have your backs 100 percent,” he said. “Not like the old days.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to El Salvador on Thursday to talk about gang violence and meet with local law enforcement officials and former MS-13 members.
The most significant Tier 1 gangs identified in DPS’s Region Six, which covers most of Central Texas, including Travis County, were Tango Orejon, San Antonio’s Tango clique, Austin’s Tango La Capirucha and the Texas Mexican Mafia.
The largest and most active street gangs in the region, however, included gangs catalogued in Tiers 2 and 3 such as the Bloods, Sureños, Crips and Gangster Disciples, and strong prison gangs include the Texas Syndicate, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and the Aryan Circle.
The report also said MS-13 has a presence in Travis County, though it characterizes the state as mostly a passing point for the gang.
“While the increase in the presence of the MS-13 grows, it appears that Texas is continually used (as) a transitional zone, as gang members are traveling onward to the U.S. East Coast,” the report says.
The DPS report highlights the challenges and successes of law enforcement agencies across the state charged with disrupting criminal activity of these organizations.
A documented member of the Sureños made headlines earlier this month when he was arrested by immigration officials after being released from the Travis County Jail despite an immigration detainer being filed against him.
The man, identified by authorities as Julio Cesar Mendoza-Caballero, 33, had been deported four times and had a criminal history that included convictions for theft of a firearm, unlawfully carrying a weapon and prostitution.
Authorities also noted that the Bandidos Motorcycle Club is a significant gang in the area and pointed to a simmering rivalry with the Cossacks Motorcycle Club as a reason for a deadly shootout at a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco that left nine people dead in 2015.
That same year, DPS special agents in Austin, San Antonio and San Marcos executed search and arrest warrants on Texas Mexican Mafia members. The operation included Austin police, along with several other local law enforcement agencies, and resulted in six arrests, according to DPS. One of the gang’s suppliers was also picked up at the Eagle Pass border checkpoint for possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, the agency said.
The assessment said that of all the tier-ranked gang members who entered the Texas corrections system in 2016, 20 percent came from Region Six.
Travis County sheriff’s Maj. Wes Priddy said gangs compose roughly 10 percent of the county’s jail population, on average. On Thursday, 292 of 2,554 inmates in Travis County were listed as current or former gang members.
Priddy said that not all gang members bring violence with them into jail but that authorities do have to pay special attention to make sure gang violence doesn’t become an issue.
“With over 10 percent of our population being identified as having a gang affiliation of some sort, it becomes problematic to keep all of those individuals away from each other,” Priddy said.
The report says there are about 100,000 gang members in Texas.
Tier 2 gangs include the Texas Syndicate, the Crips, the Bloods, Partido Revolucionario Mexicano, the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, Barrio Azteca, the Sureños, the Aryan Circle, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and the Texas Chicano Brotherhood.
The Texas Syndicate was downgraded to a Tier 2 gang in this year’s assessment due in part to law enforcement efforts to disrupt the gang as well as a siphoning of power from Tango Blast and local Tango cliques both inside and outside of prison.
“The gang, with their lax membership structure, continues to grow largely unrestricted both inside and outside the Texas prison system. When combined, Tango Blast and Tango cliques have the largest membership levels in Texas, and even individual cliques are outnumbering most gangs,” the report said. “Tango members engage in a variety of crimes across the state, including transnational crimes along the Mexico border.”
Tier 3 gangs include the Gangster Disciples, Hermandad de Pistoleros Latinos, Paisas/Mexicles, 18th Street, the Tri-City Bombers and Raza Unida.
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