Waco police: We're ready to take on biker gangs

What is this, Hollister redux? A biker gang turf war broke out in a restaurant parking lot in Waco, Texas yesterday, escalating quickly from a brawl to a shooting. Nine people were killed in the shootout and 18 others wounded. Amazingly, the only dead and injured were the bikers:

The gunfire erupted about 12:15 p.m. outside a Twin Peaks Restaurant, where members of the motorcycle clubs had gathered. The fight spilled into the parking lot, initially involving just fists and feet, but escalating quickly to chains, knives, clubs and firearms. Waco police officers were already at the scene when the confrontation unfolded because they had anticipated problems as hundreds of bikers from at least five groups gathered at the shopping plaza. …

No officers, shoppers or bystanders were injured. The authorities said their decision to place officers outside the restaurant before the gunfire erupted most likely saved lives.

“There were so many rounds fired from bad-guy weapons here, it is amazing that innocent civilians were not injured here,” said Sergeant Swanton, who added that investigators expected to recover about 100 weapons. “In 34 years of law enforcement, this is the worst crime scene — the most violent crime scene — that I have ever been involved in. There are dead people still there. There is blood everywhere.”

Local police laid some of the blame on the restaurant’s franchise owners. The national office is less than pleased to hear that, and may take steps to end the franchise agreement:

Swanton said that the restaurant’s operators also were aware of the meeting in advance, and he described the management as uncooperative with authorities in addressing concerns.

“Apparently the management (of Twin Peaks) wanted them here and so we didn’t have any say-so on whether they could be here or not,” Swanton said. …

But Rick Van Warner, a spokesman for the Dallas-based corporate franchisor, said the company is reviewing the circumstances surrounding the shooting and is “seriously considering revoking” the Waco location’s franchise agreement.

“We’re very upset that clearly our standards of safety and security were not upheld in this particular case,” he said.

Although some on Twitter seemed confused about the connotations of “biker gangs,” the truth is that the outlaw gangs have been considered organized crime syndicates for decades. Gangs like Hells Angels, Mongols, and Outlaws all have long dossiers at the FBI involving drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion, and the like. At least one of the gangs involved in the Waco shooting has its own listing at the Justice website:

The Bandidos Motorcycle Club (Bandidos) is an OMG [outlaw motorcycle gang] with a membership of 2,000 to 2,500 persons in the U.S. and in 13 other countries. The Bandidos constitute a growing criminal threat to the U.S. Law enforcement authorities estimate that the Bandidos are one of the two largest OMGs operating in the U.S., with approximately 900 members belonging to 93 chapters. The Bandidos are involved in transporting and distributing cocaine and marijuana and are involved in the production, transportation and distribution of methamphetamine. The Bandidos are most active in the Pacific, Southeastern, Southwestern and the West Central regions of the U.S. The Bandidos are expanding in each of these regions by forming additional chapters and allowing members of supporting clubs, known as “puppet” or “duck” club members who have sworn allegiance to another club but who support and do the “dirty work” of a mother club – to form new or join existing Bandidos chapters.

Police had been tipped off that hundreds of gangsters would come into town and responded quickly, arresting almost two hundred in their investigation. That prompted threats from other gang members, but the Waco Police insist that they’re prepared for other gang members, too:

There are reports gang members involved in Sunday’s shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, may return to the area, but police say they are prepared, reports CBS News correspondent Vicente Arenas. …

At least 100 bikers were detained and on surrounding freeways, police pursued other riders for questioning.

Swanton said Waco police have been aware of criminal biker gangs gathering at the city’s Twin Peaks for months.

It’s the most violent confrontation, local officials say, since the Branch Davidian standoff 20 years ago. It may very well not be over, either — although given the quick and forceful action by the police to shut down the biker gangs, it may serve as a warning to others. Perhaps others can learn a lesson about stopping violence before it gets out of hand.