15th District Cmdr. Walter Green remembers a time when locking up the city’s top gang leaders was key to dismantling operations in their criminal organizations. Not so anymore.

In a recent interview with the Austin Weekly News, Green, a 25-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, who took over as Austin’s 15th District commander in July, insists gangs in the city and in Austin are more splintered today. Narcotic sales, he added, is fueling much of their activities and neighborhood violence.

“The street gang concept of the ’70s and ’80s no longer exists in the community,” he said, referring to them more as organized crime outfits with multiple factions. “There’s no direct leadership or hierarchy like it used to be. Now you have rival blocks and neighborhoods with groups loosely tied to the main gang.”

Much of the city’s outbreak in gun violence this past year has been related to gangs. In Austin, groups including the 4-Corner Hustlers and Vice Lords have maintained a presence. The Chicago Crime Commission’s Gang Book published in 2006 reports more than 125,000 gang members in Chicago and metropolitan area.

Green, a former gang investigations commander with the police, said the media’s focus on gangs doesn’t take into account the current structure. In fact, there’s actually less structure, yet more complexity than in the past. And while there are deadly rivalries, Green explained that some gangs reach a sort of understanding with respect to drug sales, with factions selling drugs on the blocks they control.

But the profit from drug dealing is the driving force behind the gangs today, he said.

Prostitution, gambling and ‘social clubs’

Green noted that gambling among gang members is also on the rise in Austin, in most instances done outside on the street in warmer months.

“It’s really passing time between drug sales,” he said. “You’ll see them on the corner gambling right out in the open.”

Green added that officers are out patrolling the known areas, and there’s been a corresponding increase in gambling arrests in Austin this summer. The commander said there’s also a link between prostitution and narcotics with addicted streetwalkers selling sex to support their habit.

Austin police continue to target unlicensed “social clubs” popping up in the community, said Beverly Rodgers, a 15th District CAPs officer. In the last four months, police have shut down three such clubs, some caught selling alcohol to minors in police stings. Private clubs can open as long as they keep a membership and are not open to the public. They can’t sell alcohol, but members can bring their own. Some can operate on a limited license, but most don’t have any.

“We’re writing tickets and issuing citations, but when one closes, another opens up in its place,” Rodgers said.

Police hire youth from the community to work undercover and make purchases, she noted.

Working with the community

Green said he’s spent his first few months on the job getting to know his officers and residents, relying mostly on his CAPS officers to reach out to the community.

“Many of our CAPS officers live in the district. They know the community and that’s been a real plus, not just for me but for the district,” he said. “This community policing office has an advantage over most community offices. When we hold community meetings, they’re going to know half the people in the room. They’ve made those connections.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com