Salt Lake police are unobtrusively helping to organize two task forces aimed at preventing youth gang problems from escalating locally.
Police Chief Mike Chabries said a task force is being formed in conjunction with the city school district and local juvenile court and probation officers to target at-risk juveniles and to provide programs that will discourage gang activity.A second task force is being organized by the police department and the Utah Division of Investigation, said Mike Hanks, division director. The Ogden Police Department will also likely be invited to be a part of the task force, Hanks said.
Neither task force has a name yet.
The law enforcement task force will focus on gathering information about suspected gang members and leaders. Chabries said it's premature to form any task forces similar to the Los Angeles Police Department's "Citizen Resources Against Street Hoodlums," or CRASH units.
"We don't have the problem L.A. does, so we don't need a police task force on the streets to respond to every street crime," Chabries said.
But officials are beginning to show serious concern over the potential for gang violence in Utah in upcoming months.
"We just want to be prepared for this summer," Hanks said.
Police are noticing a continual increase in gang-related incidents: drug trafficking, graffiti and some violence.
Of particular concern is the presence of a few "Crips" and "Bloods," the notorious black gangs that originated in Los Angeles County and specialize in the "crack" trade. Crack is a potent, highly addictive form of cocaine that is smoked.
The Crips and Bloods have "set up shop" in Phoenix, Denver, Portland and Tacoma. Those cities now admit to having ignored the gang situation until it was too late.
Though the Crips and Bloods are not epidemic in Utah, they are here. Those gangs, however, have failed to get a foothold only because of the lack of a market for crack. Chabries said he would like to keep it that way.
Most of law enforcement's efforts currently center around local minority gangs, primarily Hispanic and Tongan gangs. Chabries estimates there are between 20 to 30 gangs and 300 to 500 gang members.
"Most of the gangs around here, though, are not really gangs in the sense of they do activities of criminality. Most are just social clubs," Chabries said.
But the gangs can get violent when they confront each other at parties or over territorial disputes.