SANDY One of the messages at this year's Utah Gang Conference at the South Towne Expo Center is that violent gang activity is on the rise again in the Beehive State.
One only needs to read the headlines over the past few months for evidence of the trend.
On Feb. 17, a man was shot in front of Players Club, 832 E. 3900 South. Detectives said the shooting was gang-related.
In January, a group of Straight Edgers was involved in a large fight inside a Midvale comedy club during a heavy metal concert. Some Straight Edgers in the audience went on stage and attacked the band's singer in an incident that was caught on home video and replayed on several television newscasts.
A resurgence in Straight Edge activity has been noticed throughout the county, said Sgt. Bill Robertson with the Salt Lake Area Gang Project.
Likewise, cities in neighboring states, such as Reno, Nev., have reported a huge increase in Straight Edgers, he said. Several Reno officers attended this year's Utah Gang Conference, which wrapped up Friday, to learn how local officials dealt with their Straight Edge problem in the early '90s.
Robertson said recently investigators have even seen an increase recently in Straight Edge activities at local schools. In some cases, the gang is looking to recruit, he said.
In Utah, he said, some juveniles are initially lured into the Straight Edge culture because of the idea that they allegedly don't smoke or drink or do drugs. Straight Edgers, however, have traditionally been some of the most violent gang members in the state.
Hispanic gangs continue to be the largest and most active in Utah, followed by Straight Edgers and then Polynesian gangs, Robertson said. Although the state's black gangs are smaller in numbers, a particular black gang has been quite active recently in an on-going feud with a Polynesian gang.
Salt Lake County sheriff's detective Lee Morris said at least six shootings in the past month were connected to the on-going feud. It started when one person ran over a rival gang member with his car, he said.
Turf issues are not big with Utah gangs. Instead, their major agenda is making money. When there is money to be made, different groups seem to suddenly become friends.
During Morris' presentation Friday, he showed a picture of members of a "black" gang posing for a group shot, although only one of the members was actually African-American.
A topic that generated some of the biggest buzz at this year's conference was the continuing nationwide rapid rise of the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 gang.
The Mara Salvatrucha gang has made national headlines lately because of rumors that it has been approached by al-Qaida to help smuggle terrorists into the United States. Several news reports last fall said a known al-Qaida terrorist wanted by the United States was spotted meeting with high-ranking MS-13 members.
Mara Salvatrucha is a violent gang that was started in Los Angeles by immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador. Some of its members have military backgrounds.
The group has become known for smuggling drugs, weapons and even immigrants into the United States from Central America, one of the reasons they allegedly were approached by Al-Qaeda. al-Qaida.Detective Tony Moreno, who has been with the Los Angeles Police Department for 29 years, said 110 cliques of the MS-13 gang have now been identified in 32 states. The gang is now active on both coasts as well as in Canada.
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