CCPD's gang unit is constantly gathering information on prison gangs and more than 4,000 known gang members operating in the city.
On Saturday night police located three known gang members and took them into custody for outstanding warrants. They documented that they were together, and took photos of new gang tattoos.
Right now there is an uptick in gang violence. It means more drive-by shootings and home invasions.
Police responded to a gang-retaliation shoot-out near Moody High School. Spent casings revealed three guns were involved.
The gang unit tries to stay ahead of the game and anticipate gang members' next move so that they can stop the cycle of violence.
CORPUS CHRISTI -
There are seven officers in the gang unit at the Corpus Christi Police Department. Their job: to keep tabs on more than 4,000 suspected gang members in the city.
For those seven officers, the key is to know the enemy.
They are constantly gathering intel on gangs in Corpus Christi. In the process, they come to know many gang members very well. That knowledge can be key when it comes to cracking big cases.
Gang violence ebbs and flows, but officers say right now there is an uptick in the violence.
"Right now we're in one of those high points where we're getting a lot of different groups that are doing a lot of home invasions, a lot of different groups that are doing retaliation drive-bys," Senior Officer John Ghezzi, an investigator with the CCPD Gang Unit, said.
On a Saturday night, it does not take the gang unit long to find known gang members. KRIS 6 News joined officers for a ride along.
"Right now looking for some of our known gang members. We're going to hit some hot spots, look for their houses, look for their vehicles, and listen to the radio to see what happens with emergency traffic," Officer Ghezzi said.
Officers stopped a white Cadillac, that matched the description of a stolen vehicle. In the end the car was not stolen, but three known gang members with outstanding warrants for misdemeanor crimes were inside.
"All three of these guys I would recognize on site, just on having dealt with them since they were little kids. They're now 22-, 23-years-old. I've been dealing with all three of these guys since they were 12- or 14-years-old," Officer Ghezzi said.
When gang members are found associating with one another, police document that.
They also take photos of gang tattoos, which are a sort of street resume of gang activity.
"As they gain rank in the hierarchy of the gang they'll start to add more, bigger, bolder gang tattoos," Officer Ghezzi said. "You can see just the tapestry of their life experience."
Ghezzi examined tattoos on each of three gang members stopped Saturday night,
"This is all new or what?" he asked one, shining a flashlight on new tattoos on the man's chest.
All the intel goes into a database that police use to keep track of the city's 4,000 suspected gang members.
"We're keeping tabs on these guys, keeping tabs on what they're doing, their girlfriends, the situations, to anticipate what's going to happen next," Officer Ghezzi said. "We're trying to keep ahead of the game."
They are trying to anticipate gang-related violence, which happens every week. Things like home invasions, where one gang steals drugs from another, or drive-by shootings.
On Saturday, Officer Ghezzi made a stop at house on Breckenridge drive in Corpus Christi's west side.
"They did a drive by on this house with an assault rifle about two weeks ago, I think there was a total of 47 rounds that were fired into the house," Officer Ghezzi said. "A 16-year-old boy was shot, and his mom was shot. It ended up being a gang retaliation. Usually in the gang world, it's not finished ever."
The frequency of gang violence is often dictated by who is in or out of prison. Unlike other cities like Houston or Chicago, in Corpus Christi, prison gangs rule the streets: the Mexican Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood, Texas Syndicate, and Raza Unida. They are more violent and more organized than street gangs.
".Corpus is renowned for it's prison gangs They go to prison and they get a proper education on gang banging," Officer Ghezzi said. "Then they've got a good education on gang banging, on selling drugs, plus they've got a lot of connections that they've made inside. And they come out and they're an even bigger headache than before they went in."
Proximity to border also means gangs are involved in moving drugs to Houston, a major distribution center for illegal narcotics.
"A lot of times there are stash houses that are here in Corpus that are protected by the prison gangs," Officer Ghezzi said. "They have relationships with the Mexican side of the border, also have good ties with the gangs in Houston, the gangs in Corpus, and it's just a pipeline. It's protection for human trafficking and narcotics sales that come into all the major cities of our country."
Police know what to look for: stash cans that hide drugs, disguised to look like something as simple as a Campbell's soup can. Even low-level drug dealers get checked for gang-tattoos.
However, as a never ending game of cat and mouse plays out, acts of violence snowball.
One incident happened Saturday night, when gang members opened fire on each other near Moody High School.
A dozen officers responded to the call.
"They did it again...rat tat tat tat tat tat tat!" the man who called police told officers when they arrived. "I think something went wrong. They got enemies, they're passing by, they're shooting at each other."
Spent casings littering the street showed the intensity of the fire fight.
As far as police knew at the scene of the shoot out, no one was injured. The shooters drove away before units arrived. Officers gathered the casings as evidence.
"We have bullets from three different guns," Officer Ghezzi said. "And three different stories. So it will take some investigation, and we'll hopefully find out what actually happened."
The three varying stories came from interviews police conducted with residents on the street where the shoot out took place, including one known gang member.
The next step will be for the gang unit will take what they know and try prevent a new wave of violence.
"Now it's going to be the job of the gang unit to figure out what the next move is going to be, o take all the players that we know and try to get in front of that," Officer Ghezzi said. "Try to get the people that are going to retaliate for tonight's incident, hopefully catch them with guns in their cars, hopefully catch them with guns at their houses, before they are able to come and continue the cycle of violence."
Curbing that cycle of violence is the ultimate goal.
Sometimes just a police presence on the streets an diffuse a would-be-shoot out.
"The main goal of the gang unit is to gather the intelligence, but ultimately we're aiming to create a safer community by suppressing the gang violence," Officer Ghezzi said. "We're trying to keep one step ahead of them, mainly to ensure that we don't have more incidents where innocent people get hurt."
There is no single hot spot for gang violence, but no neighborhood is immune. Police are tracking gang members everywhere, from Annaville and the west side, to the Lakes and Country Club areas.
Most drive-by shootings and home invasions are very targeted. The majority are gang-on-gang violence. Yet sadly, innocent families of gang members sometimes get caught in the crossfire.
On Saturday night alone, CCPD's gang unit dealt with several gang-related situations. There was one robbery. They pulled over a suspected low-level drug dealer, who had marijuana in his car and a tattoo on his arm that indicated he was once in a gang. Police stopped three known gang members and took them into custody for outstanding warrants on misdemeanor charges. Finally, the responded to a retaliation shoot out between three different shooters.
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