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DPS assessment reports 12 gangs, cliques in West Texas - Odessa American: Crime & Justice

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DPS assessment reports 12 gangs, cliques in West Texas

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Posted: Saturday, May 24, 2014 6:06 pm

The region Odessa is located in has the presence of 12 gangs and cliques, according to a recent gang threat assessment report released by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Odessa Police Department and the Ector County Sheriff’s Department officials said there is a gang presence, but gang-related crime has not grown in the past year.

Ector County Sheriff Mark Donaldson said in homicides the department has dealt with this year so far, there were no indications they were related to gang activity.

“As far as gang activity, we haven’t seen that much increase,” Donaldson said. “There are gang problems in the jail, but it’s more prevalent there just because they’re stuck together, so we have to deal with that. Out in the streets, there hasn’t been an increase in more crimes being committed by gang members.”

For members of the public who are worried about gang-related crime, Donaldson advises to keep away from drug-related elements.

“If you’re not within that element, you’re not around those kinds of people that are violent,” Donaldson said. “You’re more likely to be in a wreck and get hurt in Ector County than getting shot or stabbed the way people are driving these days. You have more chance of your car or house getting broken into, but as far as getting shot or stabbed, if you’re doing a normal life thing - going to work doing your job, going home - your likelihood is very small of that happening to you.”

A jail minister in Odessa who declined to be identified due to his frequent contact with gang-affiliated members said the economic boom in the city is bringing more money, and with it, more drug-related activity tied with gangs.

“You have more gang members that are coming here because of the growth and the drug use to make drug deals. They’re coming where they can make the money,” the minister said.

The minister, who said he frequently preaches in the city’s streets, said he believes some of the recent crimes in Odessa, including the Snyder Street shooting, were gang-related. 

“It’s going to get worse because of the economy, the drug activity, the growth and the people. I meet so many people from all over the state and here they make the money. They want drugs. How are they going to purchase them? With gang members,” the minister said. “They know how to find them, they know how to shop. Cops can’t get a hold of them because they don’t stay in one spot.”

Shon Nelson Beck, 28, died of a gunshot wound at Medical Center Hospital March 27 after a south side Odessa street fight turned deadly in the 900 block of Snyder Street.

Witnesses said a group of about 40 people began congregating in the middle of the street when a fight broke out. A neighbor said they heard about six gunshots before they saw a man fall to the ground.

No suspects have been identified or arrests have been made in connection with the shooting, according to OPD Cpl. Steve LeSueur.

The minister said the south side of Odessa is experiencing a surge in drug-related activity, but when he goes to preach in the area, he does not see police frequently patrolling.

“Crime is not decreasing. Look at the shootings, look at the violence that we’re having. It’s all drug-related. It has a lot to do with these gangs making a dollar,” the minister said. “I believe if they would frequent more surveillance and just stay in that area, like one patrol unit on a constant basis just patrolling that area - and I know it’s hard because of the shortage - that would keep down a lot of drug activity. If they could do more cruising in the area, it would deter the drug deals.”

District Attorney Bobby Bland said that as long as he has served as prosecutor, gang activity has “always been a problem.”

“No doubt there is still a lot of gang activity going on,” Bland said, adding he was not sure about the specific amount of gang-related crimes committed this year. “But right now we are seeing an increase in every type of crime.”

OPD Chief Tim Burton said it is nearly “impossible” to quantify if the crimes committed so far this year in the city were gang-affiliated.

“Whether an individual crime constitutes gang-activity really depends on the nature of that crime,” Burton said. “While the assessment is accurate, quantifying specifics in what crimes are attributable to gang-activity, which I would define as being organized criminal activity, is not really something that we can quantify for you.”

Burton said there are members affiliated with organized groups that reside in the region and are active in criminal activity.

“However, we do not experience organized criminal activity in the sense that there are identifiable groups that can control certain types of crime or certain types of geographical areas, it does not reach that proportion in our area,” Burton said. “However, the presence is undeniable.”

The Texas Department of Public Transportation released the Texas Gang Threat Assessment detailing which regions in the state are experiencing activities from specific gangs. The report states 4,600 gangs were identified in Texas, although it is not known how many of those are currently active. The department assessed there may be more than 100,000 gang members in Texas. In the Midland-Odessa region, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and Aryan Circle are reported to be active, according to the assessment. 

“The assessment was developed to provide a broad overview of gang activity in the state of Texas, in order to inform law enforcement, state leaders and the public of the threat posed by gangs and gang activity to the state as a whole,” DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said. 

The report is produced annually but the analysis is an ongoing process, Vinger said. “We monitor gang-related information on a regular basis.”

Vinger advised people to educate themselves on gangs in their area and report any suspected gang or criminal activity to authorities to stay safe from gang-related violence.

“Do not wear gang-related colors, clothing or logos, if that gang is active in your area,” Vinger said. “Do not use hand signs or gestures meaningful to gangs and avoid areas where gangs may congregate.”

The assessment reported Region 4, which encompasses Odessa, has three signigicant gangs including Barrio Azteca, Sureño 13 and Tango cliques. Barrio Azteca formed in the El Paso area and spread to several regions in the state; Sureño 13 is a California-based gang and the Tango cliques are known as WTX (West Texas) and EPT (El Paso).

The Texas Syndicate, Texas Mexican Mafia, Crips (various cliques), Bloods (various cliques), Bandidos and Latin Kings were also reported to be in the region.

The assessment reported that many gangs throughout the state are working with Mexican cartels to smuggle drugs, weapons, people and cash across the border, and relationships between both groups have evolved over the past year due to changes in cartel structures.

Tango Blast was identified as the state’s most significant gang threat. The assessment reported Tier 1 gangs in Texas are Tango Blast and Tango cliques with more than 8,200 members; Texas Syndicate with more than 4,400 members; Texas Mexican Mafia with more than 5,500 members and Barrio Azteca with more than 2,000 members.

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