Monday, January 31, 2011

APD, AISD, Travis County Join Forces to Track Gang Members


Local law enforcement has joined forces to keep tabs on gang members.

There are 1,000 documented gang members in the Austin Police Department's database.

Last spring a KVUE crew rode along with the gang unit to see just how the documentation process works. They look for nine criteria including tattoos, dress, or admission of membership. As the crew found out, it is not difficult to find.

Commander Chris Noble says if a person meets the criteria, their name is added into the system. He says gang membership is not a crime, but often the information collected leads to solving cases.

"There is a direct connection between gang membership and crime. So that gives us a place to start or assist in other investigations,” Noble said.

Currently, only a select few APD officers have access to the database. The people on it do not just live in Austin. Some walk the halls of our schools.

Just this week a juvenile judge sentenced a 15-year-old for the robbery and murder of an elderly Austin woman in a gang initiation. His accomplice, 17-year-old Jonathan Anthony Contreras, was a documented gang member.

"Prime example," Noble said. "That goes back to a curfew violation at school and gang membership."

It is why Noble is opening up the department's database to AISD gang officers and Travis County Sheriff's deputies.

A new software system called the CopLink Gang Tracker will make it happen. Every agency will be able to submit names.

Noble says having access to that information is critical.

"They may have a piece of the puzzle to a crime we may be looking for,” Noble said. “The quicker we can get a violent member off the street the better.”

The software will be up and running by the summer. Noble says other departments across the state are also getting the software. Pretty soon our local police may be able to connect to cities like Houston.

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