Police target gangs in weeklong saturation

Published: Tuesday, March 3 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Salt Lake City police officer Bruce Evans patrols the Horizonte School in Salt Lake City on Feb. 26.

Deseret News Photo

Danny is 15 years old. He's been a gang member since he was just 10.

"They told me, 'You earned your jump-in,' " he says of his initiation into his gang five years ago.

Today, Danny has all the markings of a hard-core gang member. He has a small "w" tattooed under one eye for "Westside." He has an "X" and a "3" under the other eye for his gang, Surenos 13. Each of his knuckles and hands is inked, including a tattoo of a "1" on one hand and a "3" on the other, again making a "13" when flashing a particular gang sign. Across his back in big letters is the word "Tepa" and another "X3."

"I have to earn them," he says of each of his tattoos.

When asked what he had to do to earn them, Danny is purposely vague with his answers.

"Go bust up somebody," he says, apparently referring to rival gang members. "Go hit 'em up."

Danny's mother is standing nearby while he shows off his tattoos. She does not speak English, but she understands what is being talked about. Despite his many tattoos, Danny's mother apparently did not know her son was in a gang until recently when police stopped by her house to tell her.

She says several times in Spanish that her son is no longer in a gang and won't be getting any more tattoos. When asked if that's true, Danny gives a small smile and says he's not doing as much gang-banging any more.

Just then, a white SUV drives by while Danny and two of his friends are standing in front of his house. One of Danny's friends, Julio, and the driver of the vehicle give each other long stares as he drives by.

When asked who was in the vehicle, Julio simply replies, "Enemies."

Danny's story is not unique in Salt Lake City. There are many juveniles, particularly minorities, who are gang members. But their parents, many of whom were not born in the United States and do not speak English, are oblivious to their children's activities.

The Salt Lake Police Department last week tried to make an impact on the gang problem in the city with a weeklong saturation effort. Members of the Salt Lake Gang Unit, along with other officers assigned as part of the Gang Community Action Team, tried to curb the gang problem both with both enforcement and with proactive educational messages.

Results of the weeklong saturation are expected to be announced during a press conference Tuesday.

On the enforcement side, gang detectives rounded up wanted fugitives, field carded suspected gang members for documentation, and responded to any problems that arose.

On the intervention side, members of the gang unit made sure they had a highly visible presence on the streets and in the schools. The result was officers made contact with more than 100 gang members last week.

In addition, they paid home visits to between 30 and 40 documented gang members to let their families know what was happening and what options were available for helping their children get out of gangs. In many cases, the parents were completely unaware of their son's or daughter's gang involvement.

Bruce Evans and Troy Anderson are veterans of the gang unit and spent many hours last week making contact with gang members and their families.

During one day on patrol last week, Evans and Anderson pay a visit to the Horizonte School just as it is getting out for the day. They pull aside a student who is wearing all blue, including a blue rosary.

"I just dress how I dress," he tells them. "I'm not in a gang."

While the officers are speaking to the boy, his mother arrives at school to pick him up. She does not speak English. Evans, who speaks Spanish, explains to her that her son is dressed like a gang member.

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