SANDY — As Sandy police officer Jake Burns rounded the corner, two teenagers, shocked to see a motor vehicle in the relatively secluded wooded area, instinctively ran.
Burns got out of his four-wheel drive Rhino 660 and chased them. His partner, officer Sioni Langi, drove up from behind and the two young boys were surrounded.
The boys, both already known by the officers from previous encounters, apologized for taking off and said they weren't doing anything wrong — this time.
"We just got arrested and stuff, and I didn't want to get in trouble again," said one ninth-grade boy. One of the boys had been busted two days earlier in the same area for smoking pot and they ran out of fear. "I'm sorry," he said. "It was a stupid move."
For officers Burns and Langi, it's all part of patrolling one of the most unique areas of Salt Lake County, the Dimple Dell Regional Nature Park, also known simply as the Dimple Dell gully. It falls under the jurisdiction of the Sandy Police Department, which patrols the area several times a week. Summer, when kids are out of school, is the busiest time of year in the gully.
The gully is 644 acres of wooded, undeveloped territory between approximately 300 East and 3000 East, just north of 10600 South. Unlike the Jordan River Parkway, there are no paved trails. The area is popular with hikers, dog walkers and horseback riders.
But it has also become popular for at-risk juveniles, including a group classified as a gang by the Salt Lake Area Gang Project.
Over the past year, an area near the start of the Dimple Dell Trailhead near 300 East, has become a known hangout for Juggalos.
Juggalos are fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse, which has a reputation for extremely violent lyrics. Because of a continued pattern of criminal activity, and because Juggalos share a common logo and name, police classify them as a gang. About 70 percent of Juggalos, however, are law-abiding citizens, according to police. The other 30 percent are a different story.
At the Juggalo hangout in the gully, the words "Juggalo Turf" are spray painted in large black letters across a large concrete storm drain. On another area are the spray-painted initials "ICP," for Insane Clown Posse. On this afternoon, six or eight kids, one as young as 10, are hanging out. Most appear to be staying out of trouble.
Burns and Langi collect names and numbers, knowing the information might come in useful later. They advised the group to bring trash bags with them next time and help keep the litter-plagued area clean.
Once around the corner and out of sight, the officers have dispatchers check some of the names for outstanding warrants.
Graffiti, juveniles smoking marijuana and vandalism are the biggest law enforcement issues in the gully. Most of those who hang out during the day aren't into hard-core drugs. They are mostly kids who lack direction and are looking for some place to fit in, Burns said.
But at night, there are older "misfits," usually homeless 18- to 20-year-olds who sleep in the woods.
Burns points out a blanket and fire pit in one area near the Juggalo spray paintings. An empty case of beer and several cans are scattered on the ground.
Some of the older Juggalos who live in the gully typically catch TRAX to Salt Lake City at the nearby station during the day and return at night to sleep, Burns said. Of the 15 or 20 who hang out regularly, most are homeless and some have warrants out for their arrests. "A lot of them don't like home life," he said. "Too many rules."
"Most of them think it's kind of a safe place from police," Burns said.
But that has changed with the two four-wheelers Sandy police ride to patrol the large area. The Rhinos, which look like souped-up golf carts with four-wheel drive, are able to carry police gear and first aid kits. They have red and blue lights and are clearly marked with the Sandy police logo. The vehicles are able to go almost anywhere in the gully, though driving through the thick brush and narrow trails with steep drop-offs isn't always easy.
Nevertheless, the carts give police the element of surprise, Burns said. Especially at night when officers are able to come up on unsuspecting people and then turn on all their lights.
"We get a lot of shocked looks," Burns said. "We don't look like cops. They don't react until we're right behind them."
One Juggalo the officers are watching for is a juvenile who has warrants for retail theft and drug-related crimes as well as failing to show up for court on nine occasions, he said.
In addition to juvenile problems, the Rhinos are used to search for fleeing suspects from the top of the gully. At times, burglary or home-invasion suspects run into the gully to get away or hide out, Burns said.
Other problem areas include under the 700 East overpass, the bridge and water pipe that are frequently tagged with graffiti to the point that the city has to repaint them about every other month, police said.12 comments on this story
As Burns and Langi watched the tagging during a recent patrol shift, they took note of the different gangs that had spray painted their names. The overpass has several well-known street gangs, none of them Juggalos, painted on the bridge.
As the patrol moved farther east, the gully widened and opened up to an area where more horse riders go, east of 1300 East. There is an amphitheater that often attracts mischievous kids.
During a recent patrol, the two officers ran across two men fishing and a group of hikers who had an open container of beer. Everyone had their names and contact information recorded but were allowed to walk home without citations.