Mayor Kirk Watson


1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.

Austinís anti-gang initiative, also known as the Neighborhood Gang Enforcement Team, was designed to combat the cityís increasing gang violence. The Neighborhood Gang Enforcement Team (the Team) represents a joint effort between citizens, schools, community organizations, businesses, the police and other government agencies. The Team has engaged in a three-prong effort to apply aggressive suppression, intervention, and prevention efforts to eradicate gang activity and the fear it causes in Austinís schools.

Suppression activities focused on a zero tolerance policy for gang-related violence, narcotic trafficking, property crime and other aspects of gang activity. Crime analysis contributed to the identification and documentation of individual gang members and their activity. By using a "gang activity tracking system" and other crime analysis tools, the gang suppression unit has been able to identify "hot spots" of gang activity. Utilizing geographical information system software, maps are produced that show specific streets of major concern. The "hot spot" information allows resources to be concentrated in the areas of the city that will produce the most results.

In 1996, six locations were identified and intense pressure was put on gang members in these areas for a 90-day period. Using personnel from throughout the police department, Operation "Clean Sweep" mobilized mounted patrol, traffic officers, motorcycle officers and an increase in the number of walking beats. During this time, the areas were targeted for 16 hours per day with a zero tolerance policy. Operation "Clean Sweep" resulted in nearly 600 arrests and 31 consecutive days without a homicide.

Intervention activities aimed to develop the capacity within neighborhoods and school law enforcement to reach out to gang members and their families. The initiation of the intervention activity was a gang awareness conference that was co-hosted by the Austin Independent School District and the Austin Police Department. The conference brought together approximately 200 citizens, representatives from community organizations, and police officers from the school district and the City. The agenda included:

  • an overview of Austinís gang activities;
  • addressing gang activities on school campuses and in neighborhoods;
  • an overview of the federal grant that funded the project;
  • an introduction to the neighborhood gang enforcement team;
  • team planning that included identifying gang-related problems and solutions for their particular areas; and
  • group discussion at the closing.

At this conference, leaders for 10 geographically based teams were picked and asked to recruit additional citizens for participation. These groups received follow-up training that included advanced problem solving and discussions of particular gang problems. The geographically based teams also had access to some of the crime analysis information mentioned earlier.

The formation of the Gang Enforcement Team and co-hosting the citizensí conference strengthened the relationship between the Police Department-Gang Unit and the School District Police. Training was another aspect of forming the Team. The Austin Police Department provided training for the School District police officers on the following topics: operation of street gangs; officer safety; high-profiling techniques; and methods for gathering gang intelligence information. The training enabled the School District to enhance their contacts with gang members and it ensured that both agencies were working toward the same goals.

Prevention activities have involved working with families, schools, and neighborhoods to prevent new membership in gangs through early recognition and intervention. Training parents, teachers and other neighborhood residents to recognize the signs of gang activity helps to reduce gang membership. Further, the school district police and the City gang unit developed a gang tracking database that expands the whole Teamís access to gang information. The tracking system represents an exchange of information between the two police departments via an information network. It is the equivalent of all the officers sharing the general information from their files and having that information in a central location. More specifically, the tracking system:

  • identifies the criminal characteristics of the four major gang nations;
  • tracks the major gang nationsí movement across the City;
  • correlates gang sets with their alliances to the gang nations; and
  • assists in the interpretation of gang graffiti.

The tracking system provides a more sophisticated form of information that can be communicated to neighborhood residents by school and City police officers.

2. When was the program created and why?

The Team was started in 1996 with an "Anti-Gang" grant from the Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Submission of the grant application was preceded by the formation, in the early 1990s, of the "Mayorís Task Force on Gangs." The task force included citizens, the Austin Police Department, Austin Independent School District, and the Parks and Recreation Department.

3. How do you measure the programís effectiveness?

An increased exchange of information between the City and the School District police departments was measured by the number of users logging on to the information network.

Citizen involvement was measured by attendance at conferences, workshops, and the smaller neighborhood-based action groups.

Decreased gang activity was measured by the fact that, even though Austin is a fast growing metropolitan area, the number of gang-related incidents has held steady. At times, there have even been reductions in major incidence of gang-related crimes, for example, the 31 days without a homicide during Operation Clean Sweep.

4. How is the program financed?

Initial funding came from an "Anti-Gang" grant from the Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Ongoing funding comes from the City of Austin, Police Department and the Austin Independent School District.

5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?

The community has been involved since the beginning: from the formation of the Mayorís Gang Task Force to the neighborhood groups currently working with the law enforcement agencies. Citizens get training and other information from the officers and the officers get current information about gang activity from the citizens.

6. Contact person:

Lt. Don Bredl

Austin Police Department, Narcotics Division

715 East 8th Street

Austin, Texas 78701

Phone (512) 406-0076

Fax (512) 458-0405

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The United States Conference of Mayors

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