Even with thousands of gang members, Austin gang-related crime stays low

Police respond to a shooting on Purple Sage Drive, near LBJ High School, which seriously injured a man. Feb. 23, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Sean Farrar)
Police respond to a shooting on Purple Sage Drive, near LBJ High School, which seriously injured a man. Feb. 23, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Sean Farrar)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the past week, east Austin has seen two shooting incidents involving gang members. LBJ High school students were put on lockdown for hours as police finished up their investigation.

Austin police say the crimes are not between rival gangs, but they are crimes being committed by people in gangs. It’s information that has neighborhood families on edge.

“I was in the house, but you know, it’s just scary,” Brittany Lewis, a mother living near Regency and FM 969, says. Lewis said the same day as the shooting near LBJ High School, a man fired multiple shots at one of her family members. Police say the shooter in that case was also in a gang.

“I call it a gang issue, I wouldn’t call it a problem, because that would indicate there’s ongoing crime patterns that we can’t control or deal with and we’ve been fortunate that that has not happened,” Sgt. Robert Hawkins, with the Austin Police Department Gang Unit, says. Hawkins said despite what some think is an uptick in gang activity, the numbers are surprisingly low for a city this size.

“The city has doubled in size we have not seen a doubling of the gang membership,” Hawkins said. “Our number of documented gang members in the city has been pretty static, at least in the three years that I’ve been in the gang unit.”

Sgt. Hawkins says the real concern would be rival gang violence, but emphasizes that is not happening in Austin. “We have not seen the crime — the levels that you see in other cities, some smaller cities, that are far smaller than Austin, that have a great deal of higher violent crime then we do here,” he said.

Still, neighborhood parents worry about their little ones. “There’s a lot of kids playing on the street and everything like that,” Lewis says, highlighting her concern is not only with crime but also an increase in dangerous drivers in her neighborhood.

“We don’t want to wake up and have a bad phone call, you know what I mean, something that scary,” Sherry Russell, Lewis’ sister said.

Police say right now they know of about 3,000 gang members operating in Austin.

They say 2,700 of them are adults, around 300 are juveniles.

Austin police work in collaboration with Austin ISD police to implement gang-resistance programs and training for students as early as elementary school.

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