Gangs not just in bigger cities

Second in a series

Allow me to state what everyone knows about the Texas Panhandle: The region doesn’t have many big cities.

In fact, it has only one city that’s considered “big” — Amarillo. What’s more, Amarillo isn’t even considered a “big city” under the definition set forth by the U.S. Census Bureau. With a population of just less than 200,000 residents, Amarillo is officially classified as a mid-sized city.

It is dealing with big-city issues, though, such as gangs.

Here’s the deal, however. Amarillo isn’t the only place where gangs do whatever it is they do.

A recent seminar at Amarillo College, “Street Gangs in the Texas Panhandle,” taught by Amarillo Police Cpl. Steve Powers, talked about an interesting phenomenon about gangs.

They are “families” to many members. Indeed, many gang members have no other real family except for those who run with them in gangs. So, gangs as family members follow their incarcerated fellow family members all over creation, according to Powers.

The Panhandle has five prison units scattered throughout the region. If a gang member is transferred from a prison unit in, say, South Texas to the Panhandle, he or she brings a following.

Powers made the point during the daylong session at AC’s West Campus. When a gang member is moved to a new place to be incarcerated, “towns see a spike in gang activity,” Powers said. He then turned to some law enforcement officials from Dalhart who were attending the session; Dalhart is one of those Panhandle communities that is home to a state prison unit. “Isn’t that right?” he asked. I didn’t notice their response, but I’m guessing they nodded “yes.”

Powers noted the importance of public school attendance clerks, the individuals who register new students. “Cops have to make friends with attendance clerks,” Powers said. Why? They’re the individuals who notice new students coming to class who exhibit different traits than, say, the “usual” brand of student.

Chances are they’ve moved here from somewhere else — perhaps to be near a gang member who’s been transferred from another corrections unit.

“When a strange kid shows up,” Powers admonishes these attendance clerks, “call the PD.”

The scene plays itself out all across our rural landscape. No community is immune from the results of gang activity and it’s where the police must be vigilant.

Powers kept making many points during his presentation at AC West. One of them dealt with the aggressive nature of monitoring gang activity — particularly in our smaller communities. His point was that you keep pestering the gang members, watch their every move, make life so uncomfortable for them that they want to move.

“You don’t like what we’re doing here?” Powers said he asks gang members. “You know what you can do about it. Just move!”

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