Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

The Alice Police Department now has a new tool to combat gang activity in town, with the creation of a special task force to combat gang violence.

Alice Police Chief Danny Bueno announced the creation of a seven-member Gang Task Force and Street Crime Unit, set to begin operations Monday.

"This is a gang intervention program," Bueno said. "We're going to disrupt operations that might be going on. This program will also assist detectives in other investigations."

The task force consists of officers from the Patrol and Traffic Division of the Alice Police Department who have received special training in gang activity. Bueno said that in putting together the task force, it was important to use officers who have experience patrolling the streets.

"They're the ones who are in contact every day, 10 hours a day, with the element," Bueno said. "They have received extensive training in this specialized area of work, at all levels of gang investigation."

Sgt. David Valadez, the coordinator of the task force, said identifying criminals as gang members can lead to additional charges, including prosecution under organized crime laws.

"Gang officers are trained in the identification of gang membership," Valadez said. "It can enhance the criminal offense in prosecution."

Valadez estimated there are as many as 10 active gangs in the community, including both street gangs and prison gangs.

Those gangs are responsible for a range of crimes that are committed in Alice every year, including criminal mischief, burglary, narcotics trade, assault and murder.

"There are groups out there that want to terrorize our community, and we're not going to allow that to happen," Bueno said. "This is just another program this police department is putting together to reduce crime and to ensure the community will not become victims."

Although the task force will begin operations in the city immediately, Bueno said agreements are being finalized that may add representatives from the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Department, the district attorney's office and the Juvenile Probation Department at a later date.