Hays County falls into the median category of concentrated gang activity in Texas, according to the state’s 2017 Gang Assessment Report.
Gang activity has been rising exponentially in Texas and recent reports estimate there are 100,000 active gang members in the state. However, given the dynamic nature of gang recruitment, that number could be even higher, officials report.
The Texas 2017 Gang Assessment Report is a collaborative effort by the Texas Joint Crime information Center with more than 100 local law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to create a comprehensive assessment of gang activity.
“This report provides an overview of gangs operating in Texas, which gives law enforcement important information to help protect our communities from these violent organizations.” said DPS Director Steven McCraw.
Gang are categorized into separate tiers based on several factors including relationship with drug cartels, transnational criminal activity, the level of a gang’s criminal activity, total strength and prevalence throughout Texas.
Based on these factors, the most significant gangs in Texas are Tango Blast and associated Tango cliques, Latin Kings, the Texas Mexican Mafia and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).
These gangs are rated as “Tier One” due to their increasing presence in the state and their transnational activities with gangs outside of the U.S.
The prison system and county jails offer gangs such as Tango Blast unique opportunities for recruiting new members, who may join for protection during incarceration. Gangs may recruit in order to have a majority of the population and defend themselves from other gangs.
Tango Blast’s growth from prison protection group to a major power in gang activity was assisted by a loose organizational structure that allowed new cliques to more easily form, as well as members of other gangs to more easily join.
Recruitment can also occur within schools, online, in neighborhoods and within families.
“Gangs and their associates remain a significant threat to public safety in our state, not only because of their penchant for violence and criminal activity, but also their relationships with other criminal organizations, such as Mexican cartels,” McCraw said.
Mexican cartels and Texas gangs often work together to distribute drugs throughout the state, to smuggle illegal aliens across the border and to procure and move weapons to Mexico.
More gangs are seemingly starting to follow this trend, making mutually beneficial alliances between previously feuding groups.
These gangs also engage in human trafficking, including commercial sex trafficking and compelling prostitution of both adults and minors.
Gang activity tends to culminate in metropolitan areas, according to the study. However, members can also be found in surrounding rural and suburban areas.
“Like many smaller towns in Central Texas, Kyle has some affiliate gang members who live in the city limits,” said Jeff Barnett, Kyle Police chief. “We also experience some youth criminal activity. This is typically a group of teens and young adults who commit a variety of crimes including burglary and thefts.”
Barnett noted that the youth criminal activity in the area is generally not affiliated with the larger criminal gangs.
Hays County’s proximity to areas with a higher concentration of gang activity, such as Travis County, as well as its location along Interstate 35, have placed it among the median of Texas’ gang activity.
While certain gangs are significant at the state level, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a significant threat at a regional level.
For instance, Hays is within Region 6 of the six Texas DPS regions and the largest active gangs in the region include the Bloods, Crips, Surenos, Gangster Disciples, while the most active prison gangs are Tango cliques in San Antonio (Orejon) and Austin (La Capirucha).
Gangs have also taken to social media in order to promote, recruit and even brag about crimes. Members are also known to use the social media platform to showcase self-produced music videos, glorifying the gang lifestyle, taunting would-be rivals and even a call for the killings of other gang members or police.
However, Texas law enforcement officials have online tools of their own to combat and monitor gang activity.
The TXGang database is one such tool that was created for officers to access information on gangs and specific gang members. The system is only available to law enforcement officers for the purpose of monitoring gang activity.
“The TXGang database is always available to our officers and is used as needed in criminal investigations.,” said Barnett. “We find it is an extremely useful tool to mitigate gang-related activity and help keep our officers safe.
Due to an increasing presence of gang activity, Hays County formed the Hays County Gang Task Force in 2012 as a proactive measure to mitigate gang activity in the area.
The task force is made up of officers from Kyle PD, Buda PD, San Marcos PD and the Hays County Sheriff’s office.
The Hays Free Press reached out to the Hays County Sheriff’s Office for comment on this story. The Sheriff’s Office did not respond prior to press time.