In 2005 the Joint Juvenile Gang Unit was formed to address youth gang activity in and around the Austin area.
In the early 1990's, Austin communities began to experience a serious increase in gang related crimes. In an immediate response, the Austin Police Department merged several units into what is now known as the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) in 1993. The GSU, a component of the Organized Crime Division, is charged with investigating crimes involving gang members. The class and type of crimes investigated by the unit vary from responding to citizen concerns about gang activity to shutting down major narcotics rings and investigating aggravated assaults and homicides. Gang activity is more complex than it has ever been, encompassing a wide range of groups. The community now contends with juvenile street gangs, criminal prison gangs, and hate groups which statutorily meet the gang criteria. Most prevalent are the activities of street gangs. Their activities range from property damage to the most violent of crimes. Criminal street gangs often consist of juveniles and young adults. Ages are more varied in prison gangs and hate groups.
The Texas Penal Code describes a criminal street gang as being "three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol, or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associates in the commission of criminal activities." In looser terminology, a gang can be described as a group of individuals who may claim control over certain territories and engage in illegal behaviors. As history has shown, participants are often volatile, committing acts of violence toward rival gang members or the general public for even minor infractions of their code. Police officers and the public must understand that gang activity is not limited to any specific race, economic status, or political ideology. There are gangs exclusive to Black members, Hispanics, Asians and Whites. There are also a number of gangs with cross racial boundaries.
For more on the effects of gangs and steps to be taken by the community, see Effects and Prevention