This week, the Austin Independent School District holds its annual gang resistance and training summer camp for students. For the Austin ISD Police Department, which organizes the event, it’s just one way to try to eliminate gang activity on campuses.
Austin ISD Police Chief Eric Mendez says his department has two goals when it comes to gang activity. First, keep it off campus. Second, make sure students aren’t joining gangs.
“We want to catch them when they’re more statistically inclined to engage in criminal activity or criminal gangs,” says Mendez.
Mendez says gangs target middle school students, so the department begins outreach to students as early as the fifth grade.
“Not that we don’t do that at the high schools as well,” he says. “But, typically, a student who reaches high school level, if they’re not in a gang they're less likely to join a gang by the time they hit their high school age years.”
This past school year, AISD Police were called to more than 25 different middle and high school campuses because of gang activity at least once. In all, AISD police were called 120 times for gang-related activity.
Forty-three percent of the calls were for police to patrol campuses for gang-related activity. The other 57 percent of calls for service were for gang investigations. Mendez says that's when police are “working with someone who may be experimenting with it, associates, hovering on that boundary of possible members, or it's us working with actual members to get them out.”
AISD developed the Joint Juvenile Gang Intervention Unit nine years ago, after an Austin High School student involved in a gang was murdered while getting off a school bus. The unit includes two AISD Police officers and two officers from the Austin Police Department. The school district also keeps a list of students who they know to be involved in gangs.