Law enforcement officials who want to eliminate gangs should incarcerate the estimated 100 hard-core gang leaders currently terrorizing northern Utah, a gang expert said Wednesday.
By removing hard-core gang leaders, law enforcement officials would probably begin to address the rapidly growing gang problem in the area, said Carlos A. Jimenez, Salt Lake Community College director of human rights, speaking before 30 members of the Salt Lake Association of Community Councils at the City and County Building.According to Jimenez, the measure would put an end to the problem because local gangs are not organized as gangs in Los Angeles and New York - where gangs are established by hierarchy.
Big-city gangs survive because they are arranged in graded ranks where the next most powerful member takes over when the leader is either arrested or otherwise unavailable.
Enforcement officials, however, must act quickly since the so-called "Surenos-13" gang, with roots in Los Angeles, allegedly keeps operating in the area, even though its main leader is incarcerated at the Utah State Prison. The gang is apparently headed by the leader's most powerful follower.
"All they did was promote their next high-up guy," Jimenez said. "That guy is taking his place until he (the leader) gets out."
He said northern Utah's gang problem is minute compared to the gang problem in larger cities and mainly affects the area from northern Ogden to Provo.
"We haven't seen anything yet, in terms of widespread gang activity. But if we look at the police records, more crimes are being committed by these kids daily," he said. "We need to get them now. If we start now, we may be able to solve the problem."
Ogden gangs are more drug oriented then gangs in Salt Lake City, he said.
"But our gangs will become more like the gangs in Ogden," he warned. "They will become more drug oriented."
The recent availability of the drug called "ice" - which is cheaper and gives drug users longer periods of intoxication - will worsen the problem by spring, he predicted.
"That drug is going to drift into cocaine, and our gang members will use it.
"We need to get these guys off the streets. These are the guys who are going to teach your kids what it means to be a real gangster. They are going to hook them and get them to steal for them."
Jim Jensen, executive director of the Salt Lake Boys and Girls Clubs, said government and enforcement officials also need to realize the need to increase preventive education.
Jensen said he is trying hard to raise funds to expand his program to help children who are at risk. He said he identifies boys and girls at an early age and then tries to alert their families.
But for some of these children "there is no family," he said.
"I'm so convinced that if we invest our resources into helping solve the problem, we will not need the state prison and police officers," Jensen said.