Houston law agencies Wednesday upgraded a website that allows citizens to anonymously turn in gang members, adding a Top 10 gallery of the most wanted gang members.
The anti-gang website, called StopHoustonGangs.org, hit cyberspace in September 2010. Since then, 244 arrests have been made, based on 803 tips forwarded to law enforcement agencies via the site, according to statistics provided by the FBI. The most recent tip, an FBI spokesman said, came Wednesday, hours after photos of a fugitive gang member were posted on the Houston Chronicle website.
Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland said one tip, sent in after a double shooting of two youths in Tidwell Park in May 2011, led to an investigation that netted 142 arrests and the seizure of guns, narcotics and cash.
"We received one single tip from an individual who told us about gang members being involved in stolen cars, selling drugs, having shootouts at the apartment complex in front of children," McClelland said. "That's how important one single tip from this website is, and will pay dividends and keep our community safe."
From 2010 to 2011, crime by confirmed gang members in Houston went up 6 percent, HPD said.
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said 223 different gangs have been documented in the county.
"They commit violent offenses such as home invasions, robberies, kidnappings, murder, extortion. They traffic in drugs and human trafficking," Lykos said. "You know, the gangs brag that they own the night. I want you to look at this splendid website, because they are shining the light of day on these poisonous cockroaches."
FBI Special Agent Stephen Morris, who heads the Houston FBI office, said the anti-gang website has the potential to take community policing in the Houston area to a new level.
"It shows how you can bring three separate, distinct entities - law enforcement, private industry and, more importantly, the community - together to forge a synergy where the potential is enormous here," Morris said. "When you're talking about people walking around with laptops and cell phones that have more computing power than we had in our offices and our homes five years ago, this is an extremely powerful tool."
Lee Vela, vice president of public affairs at ClearChannel Outdoor, said his firm will advertise StopHoustonGangs.org information on 26 billboards around Houston. In addition, the company will feature a gang member of the week on two of its digital billboards.
"It's powerful," Vela said of the use of advertising to catch criminals. "Every time we do one for the FBI it works. In December we put one up on a Friday and he had turned himself in by Sunday."
The website is also supported by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who said his gang task force has documented 4,000 gang members, part of the 12,000 gang members estimated to operate in the county.
He said the unit arrested 109 gang members and seized $250,000 in cash last year.