HOUSTON — The Houston Police Department along with the Houston Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has announced the arrests of 24 suspects who they say were involved in an organized crime ring that targeted Houston's high-end areas.
Out of the 24 suspects, 14 remain in jail. Five of them have been charged with capital murder.
Not only do these suspects rob victims of their belongings but several of these incidents have led to killings, according to Houston Police Chief Troy Finner.
Finner said some of these suspects have been linked to the deadly Grotto shooting in August where a New Orleans police officer and another man were killed while dining on the patio. A few of the suspects have also been linked to the murder of a League City man who was shot to death after he was followed from Houston.
Chief Finner said this investigation started earlier this year with the arrest of 10 suspects.
Finner, along with the ATF, said the suspects prey on victims with expensive jewelry, fancy cars or bags from high-end stores. Some victims are robbed on the spot, others are followed home where some of the suspects commit home invasions, police said.
Pictures of watches stolen from victims:
ATF investigators said this crime ring works in shifts. There is a day crew and a night crew and they mostly target areas like the Galleria, Uptown and Highland Village.
In addition to jewelry and cars, these suspects also reportedly target guns. Investigators warn that these suspects go after guns that may be left in cars and in one situation, these suspects robbed an EZ Pawn of 24 guns.
Stolen guns being used in Houston crimes
According to ATF Houston, many stolen guns are being used in crimes. Special Agent Fred Milanowski said about 3,800 guns are stolen every year out of Houston vehicles alone.
"In the city of Houston, we have a significant problem with guns being stolen out of vehicles," said Milanowski. "We all talk about second amendment rights...but we also have responsibilities and leaving a gun unattended in a vehicle when you're not in it is not being responsible and we need people to lock those guns up because that is what's funneling guns for our criminal element."
Tony Leal, president of PPI Security and former chief of the Texas Rangers, said gun owners need to realize there is a right and wrong way to secure a gun in a vehicle.
“You can get a secure lock box that’s mounted in the inside of your trunk that is either digital key or coded to put that weapon in and secure it,' Leal said.
Guns aren’t only stolen in parked cars but when a person goes into a store or school. If a criminal sees you carrying one, you could become a target.
"If you are carrying a weapon, for your own security you are much safer and the people around you are much safer if that weapon is concealed," Leal said.
Whether your home or in a car, you want to keep those weapons locked up so a criminal doesn’t use your own gun against you.