Utah gangs more covert, more focused on money

Social media becoming the new graffiti for gang members

Published: Wednesday, March 28 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

In a generation that has grown up with the Internet, Hansen said gang members communicate through Facebook, conduct some drug marketing and post pictures with gang references. Sometimes the pictures are of people whom a gang member is having a conflict with, he said.

Another trend is for gang members to form a large circle around two rival gang members who are fighting, video record their fight and post it later on Facebook or YouTube.

Gang members are also using social media for recruiting.

"They can make (their Facebook page) look attractive to new people or friends of friends," Hansen said.

They do that by finding common likes, such as music, with prospective members.

Homicides, robberies, burglaries, thefts and weapons offenses were all down in 2011 compared to 2010, according to the Metro Gang Unit. But aggravated assaults and drug-related crimes were both up and drive-by shootings more than doubled from 2010 to 2011.

Nearly half of all documented gang members were Hispanic, according to stats compiled by the gang unit. Approximately 35 percent of gang members are white, up from 30 percent in 2009. Black and Pacific Islander gang members each make up about 5 percent of the total gang members along the Wasatch Front.

Hansen said last year's RICO prosecution of members of the Tongan Crip Gang had a significant impact on the gang. Federal prosecutors indicted 17 TCG members on about 30 crimes. Six members were convicted in October. The remaining members are to go on trial this year.

One of the biggest noticeable trends has been the increase of Norteno gang members, now being called the fastest-growing gang in Utah. The Nortenos and Surenos have taken over where the Crips and Bloods once ruled.

One of the workshops being presented this year focuses on gang prevention and intervention programs in school districts along the Wasatch Front. Representatives from the Granite, Canyons, Jordan, Salt Lake, Ogden and Provo districts each talked about what they're doing to tackle the gang problems in school.

A Jordan district representative talked about how he had to have counselors talk to a third-grade boy who was flashing gang signs. It was determined the boy was imitating an uncle, who was a gang member.

Santana, a senior in the Salt Lake district, said she had been around gangs her whole life and her parents were both heavily into drugs.

"That was their occupation. That was their lifestyle," she said.

Because she felt her parents didn't care for her, she decided she didn't care about herself either, she said. That changed when she got into the Colors of Success program and met others who had stories similar to hers.

"It was like a safety net. I learned I'm not the only one that has been forgotten," she said.

Another senior, Megan, had siblings in gangs and said she would get into fights herself defending them. That changed one day when she witnessed a small boy being jumped by a gang. The boy was violently beaten, including being smashed with a skateboard.

Because of Colors of Success, she is about to graduate high school with a 3.9 GPA and a scholarship and wants to become a preschool teacher.

When asked what adults should know about at-risk teens, many in the group said adults need to be more open with juveniles and work to become closer to them and let them know they are respected.

"The best thing to remember is you guys were kids once and made mistakes," said one teen boy. "Give us the benefit of the doubt."

While each of the school district representatives said their programs have been successful, they each noted how their programs have had to operate with increasing budget cuts. The Jordan district noted it had gone from six counselors in recent years to just one.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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