DPS Gang Threat Report Finds State's Most Dangerous Groups in Harris County

MS-13 grafitti
MS-13 grafitti Walking The Tracks/Flickr
Back in February, the gang MS-13 made headlines after its members allegedly kidnapped and raped a teenage girl, then killed her after she "made an outburst against the shrine dedicated to the gang member's satanic beliefs," Harris County prosecutors said.

"This victim stated the leader of the group, Diabolico, was offended at the outburst and immediately gave the offering of a lit cigarette to the satanic statue. He returned from the statue and told the entire group that the beast did not want a material offering. It wanted a soul."

The person who alerted police to the girl's murder was a 14-year-old girl, who was also kidnapped, tortured and sexually assaulted, and forcibly tattooed with an image of the grim reaper from her ankle to her knee. She had been held captive with the murdered teen.

MS-13, which means Mara Salvatrucha — a Salvadoran gang — is one of the most dangerous gangs in Texas, with more than 500 members statewide and a highly concentrated presence in Harris County, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety 2017 gang threat assessment. It's rated a Tier 1 gang, along with the Tango Blast (more than 19,000 members), the Latin Kings (more than 1,300 members) and the Texas Mexican Mafia (more than 4,100 members).

In DPS's Region 2, which includes Houston, the most significant gangs are the Houstone Tango Blast, the Bloods, the Crips and the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a white supremacist prison gang operating in the free world too.

To address gang violence, Governor Greg Abbott handed Houston and Harris County law enforcement's Anti-Gang Task Force a $500,000 grant, plus some extra technology and DPS agents and Texas Rangers to help. During his press conference — which HPD and the Harris County Sheriff's Office were not invited to — Abbott largely overstated Houston's uptick in violent crime, saying it was increasing at an "alarming rate," and did not provide correct statistics to back that up, mostly citing sensational news reports. (The violent crime rate has increased 7.7 percent from 2015 to 2016, not 13 percent, as Abbott said, and that increase is mostly due to an 18 percent increase in assaults; murders remained stagnant, from 302 to 303.)

Still, local police agencies gladly accepted the help. According to DPS's 2017 report, Harris County has the greatest gang activity in the state. In prisons, 17 percent of convicted gang members are from Harris County, the most of any county (Dallas accounted for 11 percent), and 18 percent of gang members convicted of violent crimes are from Harris County, also the highest amount.

In May, one month after the anti-gang task force got to work in Houston, Abbott said 450 arrests had been made. He did not provide context as to how that compared to the normal gang-member arrest rate.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn