(The Center Square) – A new anti-gang center has opened in Laredo to focus on gangs involved in organized crime also working with Mexican cartels on both sides of the border.
Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled the new center at a ribbon cutting ceremony Monday with Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, Laredo Police Department Acting Chief Steve Landin and other officials.
Laredo’s Texas Anti-Gang (TAG) Center will house federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as prosecutor offices, working on targeted investigations. Together, they act as “a force multiplier in joint gang enforcement operations,” the governor’s office said.
TAG officials will identify “criminal elements, arrest them, and put them out of business,” Abbott said. He thanked officers working at the TAG center for “cracking down on gang violence” fueled by border-related crime.
“Multiple agencies come together and work together to try to investigate where the crime is in our community and follow up with the different technology in collaboration with the different agencies in our community,” Acting Police Chief Steve Landin told Laredo KGNS-TV News. “They’re all housed together so it’s easy to communicate and see similarities in different cases and they share information and it helps us track down the people that are out there doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”
TAG officials, including those from the FBI, DEA and ATF, will also be collaborating with Mexican officials, Landin said, focused on arresting criminal gangs and others involved with organized crime working with Mexican cartels.
Gang activity occurs statewide and isn’t unique to Laredo but cartel violence is increasingly being reported on both sides of the Rio Grande River, including in Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas just across the river from Laredo.
Last month, the Ministry of Public Security of Tamaulipas announced that officers from the National Guard, Secretary of the Navy, and the Attorney General’s Office of Tamaulipas were involved in an incident resulting in one offender being killed. State Guard personnel also seized “four assault rifles, chargers, ammunition, tactical equipment and a van with handmade armor,” it reported.
In December, the ministry also reported shootouts occurred between cartel members and Mexican authorities resulting in seven offenders and one Mexican soldier being killed. Seven soldiers were injured by firearm projectiles who were evacuated by air, it said.
According to Crimegrade.org, Laredo’s overall crime grade is a D- for violent crime, property crime and other crime. “Laredo is in the 10th percentile for safety, meaning 90% of cities are safer and 10% of cities are more dangerous,” the site reports.
Laredo is a major port of entry for human and drug smuggling along two major highways. Taking Highway 83, it’s a 2.5-hour drive north to San Antonio. Taking Highway 59, it’s a 5.5-hour drive north to Houston. Several Operation Lone Star task forces and local law enforcement officials are already working these routes attempting to thwart criminal activity.
The Laredo TAG Center was opened after Abbott issued an executive order last September designating two Mexican cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and directed DPS to establish a Mexican Cartel Division within the Texas Fusion Center. These officers, working with multiple agencies, are seeking to dismantle cartel- and gang-related infrastructure with the goal of seizing their assets, vehicles and buildings. They’re also conducting multi-jurisdictional investigations to support criminal prosecutions and enhancing southbound criminal interdiction operations and activity between ports of entry.
Other TAG centers are located in Dallas-Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, Lubbock, McAllen, San Antonio, Tyler, and Waco.
This article First appeared in the center square