Gangfighters Weblog

January 12, 2010

City to vote on assault rifle buy Cops want an M-4 in every patrol car

Filed under: fort bliss, gangs, gangs in the military — carterfsmith @ 7:31 am

By Timothy Roberts

Members of the El Paso City Council appear to favor the purchase of over 1,000 assault rifles for the police department, which says it needs them to protect the city from increasingly better armed criminals.

The council will be asked on Tuesday to approve the purchase of 1,145 assault rifles at a cost of $772,646. That would supply all patrol officers with the civilian version of the M-4 military rifle. The lowest bid is from recommended bidder GT Distributors Inc. of Austin.

The money would come from a federal grant of up to $899,287, funds targeted at stimulating the economy.

The case for the purchase is usually couched in terms of the drug-cartel violence in Juárez.

“We definitely don’t want our police officers to be outgunned by any cartel operatives who might come over to El Paso,” says El Paso Mayor John Cook.

But in the wake of shootings at Fort Hood and incidents here involving soldiers, some council members say they are also concerned about errant soldiers.

Peter Pacillas, assistant chief for training and special operations, does not single out soldiers for concern. He says, “Anybody who has the capability of using a high-caliber weapon is a concern for us.”

Gun seizures
Three incidents in El Paso involving soldiers last year underscore those concerns. In each, soldiers used handguns, but police say the logical defense would be a rifle capable of shooting accurately over a significant distance.

Last April, a Chapin High School student was killed by a solider who was firing from across the street. The soldier, according to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, used a handgun. He was charged with murder.

In August, a solider was charged with shooting another solider at an El Paso bar. That, too involved a hand gun, according to the CID.

But perhaps the most notorious case cam in June, when an 18-year-old soldier stationed at Fort Bliss was charged in connection with the contract killing of a Mexican drug cartel lieutenant who also was a police informant. According to the El Paso Police Department, Michael Jackson Apodaca used a semi-automatic handgun.

According to statistics kept by the police department, the total number of guns seized by the police during searches and arrests has dropped over the last three years. What is worrisome, police say, is the increase in the percentage of those guns that are automatic or semi-automatic. Being able to fire more lead in a short period of time makes the criminal more dangerous.

Police seized 287 weapons in 2007, 265 in 2008 and only 253 in 2009. But the percentage of those weapons that are automatic or semi-automatic rose from 46.7 percent in 2007, to 50.2 percent in 2008, and to 59.7 percent in 2009.

“I feel comfortable with the request,” says Beto O’Rourke, city representative for the Westside District 8. “We are not trying to outgun the people with guns in our community, but to protect the public.”

Gang worries
Susie Byrd, District 2 representative, says she still has some questions.

“You always want police to approach any situation with an abundance of caution,” she says. “Having big assault rifles might embolden less cautious behavior.”

But she says she also worries about the violence across the border and the possible impact of military gangs.

According to the National Gang Threat Assessment for 2009, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of gang members who are in or who have come out of the military is unknown.

But, the report says, “the threat that (gang members with military training) pose to law enforcement is potentially significant, particularly if gang members trained in weapons, tactics and planning pass this instruction on to other gang members.”

A spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division acknowledges the presence of criminal gangs in the military, but says the problem is not rampant.

“We certainly recognize this is a serious issue, and each incident or credible allegation will be fully investigated,” says Chris Grey, Army CID chief of public affairs.

The population increase caused by expansion at Fort Bliss may become a factor in crime levels, says city Rep. Steve Ortega, District 7.

“If you add to that a population coming back from an extremely violent environment integrating with the civilian population, we want to make sure that the police department has all the resources it needs to make us the safest city in the nation.”

For West Side District 1 Rep. Ann Morgan Lilly, the decision was relatively easy.

“If the police are asking for them (the assault rifles) and need them, that’s OK,” she says. “(Police Chief) Greg Allen never asks for anything he doesn’t need.”

If council approves the purchase, the M-4s could be here in 90 days. Police officials say all officers will receive 40 hours of training before putting the weapons in the locked racks of their patrol car trunks.


September 2, 2009

Weekend Shooting Is Military And Gang Related, Police Say

Filed under: bloods, fort bliss, gangs in the military — carterfsmith @ 8:03 am

Derek Shore-KFOX News Reporter

Posted: 8:30 pm MDT September 1, 2009Updated: 9:23 pm MDT September 1, 2009
EL PASO, Texas — After a Fort Bliss soldier was shot early Sunday morning near the popular Cincinnati area in West El Paso, police reveal the man accused of pulling the trigger is also a Fort Bliss soldier. Police are calling the shooting gang-related.

Spc. Frank Calderon was shot after an altercation at 32 Degrees bar on Mesa Street. Antonio Saunders, also a soldier, has been charged with shooting him. Sources tell KFOX that Saunders is also a member of the Bloods street gang.

With the future growth of Fort Bliss, there is fear police may have to deal with an increase in soldiers who are also gang members.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen more of a problem than we have seen in past years,” said Sgt. Reggie Moton, the head of the El Paso police gang task force.

But Moton claims soldiers in gangs are not any more or less dangerous.

“Over the last couple years, when we go out and we deal with the military people on the different cases that have come up, it’s no different than what we deal with with other gang members,” Moton said.

However, The National Gang Intelligence Center disagrees. In their 2009 gang assessment, the center said:

“Gang members with military training pose a unique threat to law enforcement personnel because of the distinctive military skills that they possess and their willingness to teach these skills to fellow gang members.”

While the number of military members in gangs isn’t known, the assessment said the center has confirmed 19 gangs have military trained members in them. The gangs include the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings.

This isn’t the only organized crime that has been linked back to an El Paso soldier. Pfc. Michael Apodaca, a Fort Bliss soldier, is accused of drug cartel activity after he allegedly shot an ICE informant back in May.

Moton said he will work to stop any growing trends and do so with Fort Bliss’ help.

“As a matter, of fact they were involved in the case this past weekend. They came out and provided us help in this case,” Moton said.

September 1, 2009

Alleged shooter also a Fort Bliss soldier

Filed under: fbi, fort bliss, ngic — carterfsmith @ 11:00 am

By Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times
Posted: 09/01/2009 12:00:00 AM MDT

EL PASO — A Fort Bliss soldier was arrested Monday, accused of shooting another soldier during a gang fight last weekend in the Cincinnati Avenue Entertainment District.

Pvt. Antonio Saunders, 23, surrendered to Military Police and allegedly admitted to firing gunshots during a street fight at a traffic light as hundreds of patrons were leaving clubs and bars early Sunday in the popular nightlife area, El Paso police said.

Saunders was charged with two counts of attempted murder. He is accused of wounding Spc. Frank Calderon, 22, and also firing toward Kay Yem, 18, who was not hit. Police said Yem is also a soldier at Fort Bliss.

Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said Calderon, who was shot twice, remained in critical condition on Monday at University Medical Center of El Paso.

Offutt said Calderon is with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division rear detachment. Saunders is with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. Information on Yem was not immediately available.

Police and witnesses said a fight between gangs began inside the 32 Degrees nightclub. After the combatants were ejected from the club, a fight continued in the parking lot before they drove away.

Minutes later, two groups began fighting again when their vehicles pulled up next to each other at a stop light at the North Mesa and Baltimore intersection. Calderon and Yem were fighting with at least two men when Calderon was shot.

The police Drive-by Shooting Response Team

continues to investigate the incident and details about the soldiers’ gang ties, if any, were not released.

Soldiers involved in gang activity is not new. The FBI and El Paso police have been tracking members of street gangs affiliated with the rapidly growing Army post since at least 2004, according to a National Gang Intelligence Center report released two years.

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