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Cartels a Concern for DPS, But Not the Only One

Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images

The Texas Department of Public Safetycalls Mexican cartels the most significant organized crime threat in the state. In its 2013 report, the agency said six cartels are operating in Texas by moving drugs, people, cash and weapons across the border.

"It is a top DPS priority to severely obstruct the range and power of Mexican drug organizations to affect the public safety of Texas citizens," said DPS Director Steven McCraw at the Texas Emergency Management Conference in San Antonio this week.

Austin has seen its own cartel activity, according to University of Texas social work professor Michael Lauderdale. He pointed to a DEA operation two years ago that revealed La Familia cartel operatives using local restaurants to funnel drugs to other parts of the country.

“What the DEA did -- and the APD and FBI participated -- was to show how these restaurants that were run by honest people from Michoacán were being utilized for the distribution of drugs,” Lauderdale said.

While cartels are an organized crime concern, other experts say bigger threats to public safety are less exotic.

Marcus Felson, a professor of criminal justice at Texas State University, says most crime in the state is based more locally -- crimes such as theft or other non-violent, property crimes.

Even when violent crime does occur, Felson says it often has nothing to do with cartels. "Most violent crime is ordinary as well: two guys get in a quarrel at a bar or two people at home get in a quarrel, and it escalates," he said. 

For Felson, finding out which bar is the center for nearby crime and whether bars are following liquor laws could go a long way toward improving public safety. He also says that addressing alcohol abuse would reduce property crime, violent crime and DWI-related incidents.

“The best thing Texas could do would be to greatly increase the number of inspectors in the budget for the [Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission]."

The Greater Austin Crime Commission discussed the report and Austin’s cartel vulnerabilities at a closed meeting Thursday afternoon.

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