For almost a year, some gangs have been sounding the alarm about Dallas’ rising gang problem.
Dallas police commanders have consistently downplayed the problem. But on Monday speaking before the city’s public safety committee, interim Police Chief David Pughes acknowledged that gang violence is a big driver of the city’s rising violent crime. Violent crime is up just over four percent.
Pughes told council members that the department has seen a 148 percent increase in drive-by shootings: from 49 to date last year to 122 so far this year.
“There’s definitely a gang problem,” he says.
On May 14, an innocent bystander was shot and killed in South Dallas in what police sources tell WFAA was related to gang violence. A gathering to remember two documented gang members this past March ends in a gun battle that injured two. A woman died after someone mistakenly fire bombed the wrong apartment last year.
Former Dallas officer Wes Melton has been among those sounding the alarm.
“I don’t know what changed their mind, but I can tell you it’s a good thing for the community,” he said.
Pughes named three specific gangs: The Ben Frank Gang, 44OG and 65 Groveside.
Last October, WFAA first told you about the deadly rivalry between the Ben Frank Gang and YNB, which is part of 65 Groveside. BFG and YNB are local rap groups that have been posting videos on YouTube.
BFG made rap videos paying tribute to Damontre Sweeney and Jabri Jones, two gang members, who were killed in March 2016. The gathering at the park that erupted in violence was being held in their memory.
YNB also has made reference to the rivalry, rapping about “smoking Ben Frank.” The leaders of BFG and YNB also has made Facebook live videos directed at each other.
Last year before Melton left the department he did a study that showed as many as 40 percent of the city’s murders involved gang members, either as suspects or victims. He was trying to convince the department to beef up its tiny gang unit.
He told top commanders that gang crime was one those that the department could most affect.
“They’re out there on social media,” he said. “You can find them on the streets. They’re not hard to find.”
When Melton finished his project, commanders looked at Melton's findings. He was told that there was no need for him to keep documenting the connections between gang membership and murders.
Last October’s story detailed the department had shifted the gang unit’s focus away from working gang crime and had assigned them to a violent crimes task force. The story explained how the department had dramatically reduced the size of the gang unit.
Pughes says it’s impossible to know if having the gang unit focus on gang crime last year would have made a difference this year.
“We can put a 100 people in our gang unit and they’re still not going to be able to cover all seven divisions,” he said.
During Monday’s meeting, council member Adam McGough asked the department about the current size of the gang unit. He was told that there are 28 fulltime members of the gang unit.
Melton and other police sources with knowledge of the unit’s staffing say that the department is dramatically inflating the unit’s true size.
There are eight permanently assigned gang officers. There are four officers assigned to a federal task forces. Five officers are assigned on special assignment to the unit. The department also assigns between five and seven patrol officers at a time to the gang unit to be trained as gang unit liaisons.
Former Police Chief David Brown said last year that the gang liaison program had not worked as effectively as he’d hoped because their main job is to answer calls once they return to patrol.
“They’re going to send you from disturbance call to shooting call to whatever else is going on,” Melton says. “When is that intelligence gathering going to happen?”
Those familiar with the gang unit when it was much larger say that it used to be able to effectively keep gang members in line and keep tabs on them.
“If you have the gang unit actually tasked to gather intelligence, you can find out what they’re doing before they even do it,” Melton says.
Lamont Levels, a blind former gang leader, also has been vocal about Dallas' gang problem.
“I've been waiting on this day for the longest for them to recognize that our gangs are the problem,” he said. “Everybody from the community know what these gangs are doing. What these gangs are causing. It’s just the police department and our city officials who have been in denial.”
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