A newly released report sheds light on which gangs may threaten the Greater Waco area and how law enforcement plans to assess those threats moving forward, officials said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety’s gang threat assessment said gang presence in Texas has led to crimes as varied as human trafficking and homicide, including the mass shooting at Waco’s Twin Peaks restaurant that killed nine people and injured 20 on May 17.
The agency estimates that there are more than 100,000 gang members in Texas.
“Because of their propensity for violence and close associations with ruthless Mexican cartels, gangs are a serious threat to public safety in Texas,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw in the report.
Gangs were ranked based on “threat potential” factors, including relationships with cartels, level of violence, relationship with other gangs, total strength, juvenile membership and involvement in human smuggling and trafficking.
Gangs with the most concentrated presence in McLennan County include Tango Blast, Texas Syndicate, Texas Mexican Mafia, MS-13, Latin Kings, Surenos, Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, Bloods and Crips, the document says.
“Cossacks have been called an emerging threat,” said DPS spokesman Tom Vinger, despite the fact that the group — who police say were involved in the Twin Peaks shootout — was largely left out of the document.
Vinger said it would not be possible to discuss every single organized criminal group in the document.
“There are over 5,000 gangs in the state of Texas,” he said.
Bandidos are considered the ninth-largest state threat but do not have a concentration high enough in McLennan County to be considered as locally dangerous as the groups listed above.
The report attributes the conflict between the Bandidos and Cossacks to territorial disputes.
The document says, “Cossacks members have recently started wearing the Texas patch on the bottom of their vests without the approval of the Bandidos. Traditionally, the Bandidos have been the dominant motorcycle club in Texas, and thus no other club is allowed to wear the Texas patch without their consent. The incident in Waco was preceded by a series of violent incidents reportedly associated with the Bandidos. The majority of these incidents occurred in the northern half of the state.”
City of Waco
“We come across them every day,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said of gang members, adding that those interactions involve everything from traffic stops and drug busts to assaults and homicide.
Swanton said the department regularly interacts with members of Tango Blast, Texas Syndicate, Aryan Brotherhood, Bandidos, Bloods and Crips.
“I’m not going to give anybody bragging rights about being the best or the baddest or most notorious,” Swanton said. “Any criminally active gang is a problem for us.”
Swanton would not speak specifically about strategies his department uses to combat gangs in the area, but said there are “personnel assigned to specifically monitor gang activity, gang trends and gang information that law enforcement would need.
“We started seeing that crack dealers were members of Crips and Bloods and were starting their own East Waco posse” in the early 1990s, he said.
Although membership has changed since nearly 30 years ago, he said, “It’s not going away.”
McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Corporal William Sustaita, who is responsible for monitoring gang activity in McLennan County Jail, said the facility has inmates from gangs as varied as the Aryan Brotherhood to Tango Blast.
Sustaita said the Bloods were the gang most largely represented in the jail, and the fastest-growing are Tango Blast, the Bloods and the Peckerwoods.
Sustaita said about 10 percent of the population — nearly 100 inmates — are confirmed gang members, with likely more unconfirmed within the walls of the jail.
“I deal with them on a daily basis,” he said, adding that often gang members try to hide their affiliations when they’re processed at the State Highway 6 facility. “My job is to see who comes through our jail and find out if they are a gang member.”
Sustaita and Jail Capt. Ricky Armstrong said there haven’t been gang-related issues in the facility in a long while, adding that Sustaita’s position was expanded to full-time only two years ago after a perceived increase in gang presence.
“We had a need for the knowledge of the gang members to keep our system and our jail safe,” Armstrong said. “We need to know who is here so that there won’t be problems.
“They don’t conduct a lot of gang activity because we don’t allow it,” he continued. “They’re not recruiting. They’re not jumping people.”
Armstrong added, “We try to defuse it before it happens.”
“A lot of criminal activity is committed by gang members nationwide; that’s just a fact,” McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said. “By monitoring the activity of the gangs, you’re also monitoring the criminal element.”