AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department made arrests over the weekend as part of a Gang Unit operation to help cut down on violent crime downtown.
Two different men were arrested in the downtown corridor for possession of cocaine and unlawful carrying of a weapon.
Court affidavits showed officers from APD’s Gang Unit were patrolling downtown because of a recent rise in violent crime in the area.
On Friday, at around 10:30 p.m., officers say they noticed Isaiah Malone and several others loitering outside of Teji’s, a restaurant on East Sixth Street. Malone quickly turned away and hurried inside the restaurant when he saw an officer approaching, according to court documents. Officers say soon after, they found him in the restaurant’s restroom trying to hide crack cocaine. Officers say they also found a 9mm Smith and Wesson handgun when they searched him.
Later, in the early hours of Saturday morning, the same officers made a traffic stop, during which they say they found marijuana and cocaine in Trent Van Zandt’s car. The officers wrote in their report that they also found a Smith and Wesson .40 caliber handgun inside of a Crown Royal bag on the floorboard of the backseat.
“It’s sad that people just come here to have a good time and can’t because people want to drink, pull out guns, start shooting,” said Johnathan Bible, who works on Sixth Street and feels strongly against people bringing illegal weapons out with them.
Michael Lauderdale, who’s a professor at the University of Texas and a board member for the Greater Austin Crime Commission says he feels the city is seeing a trend. Lauderdale has spent years researching gang violence and educating police on how to respond to gangs.
“We’re not San Antonio. We’re not Houston. They have much greater gang activity there, more entrenched gangs than we have here,” Lauderdale said, but, he added, anecdotally, “When I look at the rising amount of violence, when I look at when some of this occurs, it seems representative of what I would look for and see in areas where there’s a lot of gang activity.”
Lauderdale says people in Austin often don’t hear about, or realize, how much gang activity is actually going on.
“I think it’s important to address it, but at the same time, it’s not good for tourism,” Lauderdale said, adding that APD has the right idea with a proactive approach in busy areas. “The presence of police, the visibility of police is part of the key to reducing gang activity.”