Pubdate: Mon, 12 Feb 2007
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2007 Corpus Christi Caller-Times


Police Increase Work Against Gangs Before Serious Crimes Occur

Things have to get worse before they get better, at least on

That's the thinking behind stepping up law enforcement of less serious
crimes such as weapons charges, vandalism and drug dealing by
suspected gang members.

Catching them early disrupts gang organization and keeps members from
moving on to more serious crimes, including rape and homicide, which
still are a main focus of the department, police officials said.

Corpus Christi saw a 25 percent increase in reported gang crime from
2002 to 2006, but more serious offenses have dropped and the increased
numbers are from heightened police enforcement, Chief Bryan Smith said

"It's very difficult to judge crime based on the number of reports
generated because new enforcement initiatives oftentimes push up the
numbers making it appear the problem is getting worse when you're
actually fixing things," Smith said.

In the past year, the number of more serious crimes such as homicide,
rape, aggravated assault and robbery increased from 321 to 331
incidents, according to police reports involving suspected gang
members. Less serious offenses such as disorderly conduct and weapons
crimes jumped from 797 to 874 incidents.

The numbers since 2002 reflect a stunting of major crimes by zeroing
in on less serious offenses, Smith said. The recent increase in lesser
offenses is not encouraging but shows the department is making
progress targeting crimes that require officer-initiated
investigation, he said.

"Gang crime in Corpus Christi is a problem, and it is a major focus of
the police department," Smith said. "The goal in the long run is to
develop downward trends over three to five years. Sometimes it takes
enforcement-driven spikes in the numbers to bring them down in the
long run."

Programs such as the Crime Control and Prevention District, pawnshop
detail, a full-time graffiti investigator and the recent
Save-Our-Streets campaign surged the number of lesser offenses
reported, Smith said.

The Crime Control and Prevention District added 10 Juvenile
Enforcement Team officers, who target gang-related offenses, and 40
other officers across the department in the late 1990s. The
Save-Our-Streets campaign, launched nearly two weeks ago, offers as
much as a $500 cash reward for anonymous tips naming gang members with

Police nabbed their first suspected gang member with guns from a tip
the day after officers sent out a news release about the program,
police said.

And the numbers affirm the enforcement programs are working, Smith
said. Gang-related homicide, defined by police as one gang member
killing another, has held steady since 2002, according to police data.
Incidences of gang members committing rape, robbery and auto theft
have flat-lined or dropped since 2004.

Drive-by shootings dropped from 35 reports in 2002 to 18 in

The new programs are leading many gang members to change their
tactics, Juvenile Enforcement Team Lt. Mark Gutierrez said. Gang
members appear reluctant to claim their gangs, group together in
public, use cars for drive-by shootings or attack other gangs, he said.

"All this requires no-tolerance enforcement," Gutierrez

Gutierrez cited as an example the department's program that allows
vehicles that suspects use in felonies to be seized and in some cases
auctioned. Since the program began in 2005, officers have seized 223
cars, according to police data. Money goes into a general law
enforcement fund.

That's part of the reason why drive-by shootings are less common now,
Gutierrez said.

"The overall trend seems to be somewhat stable," said police Cmdr.
Brian Uhler, who oversees the Juvenile Enforcement Team. "In and of
itself, that's not acceptable. We need to be reducing that number."

More work has to be done further improving the department's gang
enforcement tactics, Uhler said. Recent ideas include asking the
courts for longer probation and parole requirements and better sharing
of gang information between the juvenile enforcement team and patrol
officers, who together arrest a majority of gang members, he said.

Smith said added officers will focus more on the narcotics
relationship between gangs and how the groups are funded.

"That may find us a way to put them away for a long time," he said. 
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