Houston police chief addresses gang problem after Jazmine Barnes murder

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo responded to Governor Greg Abbott’s comments on gang violence in a meeting with reporters Wednesday, thanking the governor for acknowledging one of gang violence's victims, but criticizing where some state resources are being allocated. 

On Tuesday Governor Abbott tweeted, "#JazmineBarnes— the innocent 7 year old girl gunned down in Houston appears to have been killed by a gang member. There are too many gangs in Houston. We must expand the Texas Anti-Gang Task Force in Houston to clean our streets of this trash and restore safety. #txlege"

Chief Acevedo started a meeting with reporters Wednesday, saying he’s glad the governor is acknowledging the death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes, and he hopes that with the legislative session just beginning that lawmakers will do something to fix the problem of violence.

The police chief went on to criticize the amount of state resources being diverted to the border with Mexico.

"You can go do the research yourself on what violent crime looked like along the border before the Texas surge and since the Texas surge, and I can tell you that had you taken that money and given it to the big cities across the state and our partners in rural areas, we would have had much better results in terms of public safety," said Acevedo.

The police chief said he’s hoping Governor Abbott will take some of the homeland security and state money and put it towards police departments and sheriff's offices to fight gang violence in cities throughout Texas.

"If what we really want is to enhance the safety and security of Texans, let's focus on crime fighting," said Acevedo. "The crisis is not on the border. I think that when you talk to law enforcement professionals across the country--people that are actually in the trenches--there's not a crisis in terms of public safety on the border. There are some humanitarian challenges along the border, but there's not a public safety crisis. What happens at the border--that's political theater. What's happening in our communities--that's what we need to focus on. When you're looking at gang violence, the majority of gang members are home grown, natural born, red blooded Americans. They're not undocumented gang members."

Chief Acevedo said there were 279 murders in the City of Houston last year--which is up by 10 compared to 269 murders the year before. He said gangs are a problem, but said 20 percent of the murders last year were acts of domestic violence.

According to the “2018 Texas Gang Threat Assessment" put together by Texas DPS, the Bloods, Crips and Houston's Tango Blast are the top three most significant gangs in Southeast Texas. The report also says, “Houston has become a destination point for MS-13, and the FBI has identified Houston as a hot spot for MS-13 presence and violence.”

In the past, the governor has complemented Chief Acevedo’s work against gangs. The governor is advocating to expand Houston's Anti-Gang Task Force to more Texas cities.

Chief Acevedo said Wednesday there are 20,000 registered gang members in Houston compared with 50,000 in Los Angeles.

On the issue of gangs, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted Wednesday, "While enforcement is crucial, let’s not forget the need to invest in prevention and early intervention.”

The police chief echoed that point, saying everything starts in the home, and his department is putting a lot of work into relational policing.