The number of crimes linked to gang members in Austin jumped 65 percent from 2007 to 2008 – a period that also saw an increase in the overall number of documented gang members on city streets, reports the Austin American-Statesman. A police analysis showed that last year, Austin had 1,617 crimes in which gang members were either suspects or were arrested, compared with 982 in 2007. The crimes ranged from drug possession to aggravated assaults, robberies, and thefts.
Meanwhile, the number of documented gang members rose from about 1,000 in late 2007 to 1,308 in 2008. They are using the data to apply for a federal U.S. Department of Justice grant that they said would be used to buy surveillance equipment and to pay overtime to officers working special gang operations. Austin police have documented a person as a gang member if they meet at least two of six criteria in state laws, including whether they admit to a gang affiliation or have tattoos or display other gang insignia. Officials have been making a more concerted effort in the past year to document such gang members when they are stopped by officers, arrested or questioned about their knowledge of other crimes. One official believes the increase could be due to increased interest in drug trafficking, particularly as drugs supplies are more restricted and controlled by cartels along the U.S.-Mexico border. He said it is possible that gangs could be loosely connected to such cartels.