Shortly after midnight on April Fools' Day, Desmond Seals was standing outside a "crack house" on 30th Street in San Bernardino, Calif.

A car drove slowly through the low-income, primarily black neighborhood. Seals looked up to see who was coming.They weren't friends. In a burst of machine-gun fire, Seals was dead.

To California authorities, it was just another in a long series of drive-by shootings, which are the trademark of violence among members of black gangs known as the Crips and Bloods.

Should anyone in Utah care about what happened to Desmond Seals?

Consider this:

-Seals, who had been living in Ogden prior to his death and was wanted by Utah authorities for possession of crack cocaine, was a known Crip from Los Angeles. He was playing a major role in a network that brings cocaine into Utah to be cooked into crack.

-The Crips and Bloods, which originated in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, have set up shop in about a dozen Western and Midwestern cities, bringing with them crack and its accompanying violence and often catching law enforcement off guard.

-Salt Lake police have identified about 100 Crips and Bloods in the Salt Lake area.

-The violence that ended Seals' life could have occurred in Ogden two or three weeks earlier when he was attacked by a group of four or five "unknown" blacks.

State narcotics agent Ron Stallworth, who arrested Seals on the cocaine charge March 3, says it's time Utahns knew that gangs are active in Utah.

"We're in the embryonic stage of gang activity," says Stallworth. "Whether the gangs will grow here remains to be seen. But I think they'll be here for a while."

Though Utah doesn't have any predominantely black communities, the potential for Crips and Bloods to find roots here is real. Some black Utah residents have friends or relatives who are gang members in Los Angeles and visit Utah frequently.

Additionally, many wayward Southern California youths are sent to the Job Corps Center in Clearfield. Though Job Corps "screens" its students, refusing to accept gang members, some gang members make it to the center and eventually find Utah to be a fertile field for the drug business.

Most significant, however, is the local Hispanic gang situation, which many observers say is starting to heat up. Salt Lake and Ogden have well-established Hispanic gangs that could find themselves being recruited by powerful out-of-state black gangs.

That's what's been happening in Colorado. In Longmont, about 30 miles north of Denver, authorities have observed out-of-state black gangs recruiting local Hispanic gangs - dangling the lucrative drug profits before their eyes.

In a March 19 memo to his captain about the Crips problem, Stallworth noted the Hispanic recruitment phenomenon: "This is being done for business purposes as well as to strengthen membership for territorial disputes. The union of black and Hispanic street gang members (needs) serious monitoring by the law enforcement community."

Stallworth, an undercover agent with the Utah Division of Investigation, began working closely two weeks ago with the Salt Lake Police Department's new gang intelligence unit.

Sgt. Mike Fierro, who heads the unit, said the unit has two missions: evaluate the gang situation and then develop a pro-active program to deal with it.

Though local police are loath to give credence to the existence of any street gangs, the mere creation of the unit is evidence they are starting to take gangs in Utah seriously. "We've gone too long denying there are gangs," Fierro said.

A major task facing the new unit is to make up for lost time following the loss of the department's Crime Analysis Unit, which was disbanded last July by then-Acting Chief Ed Johnson, who said he had to eliminate it because of budget cuts.

Former crime analyst Greg Chase, who spent several years tracking the gangs, said it will be difficult to duplicate what he was doing.

After the Crime Analysis Unit was eliminated, the gang assignment was left in the hands of a single detective, who has been keeping data "the old-fashioned way," without the assistance of computers, Chase said.

"They're missing things - maybe not the big things - but they're just not getting the kind of intelligence and information that we were getting."

Mike Chabries, who became police chief a month after Crime Analysis' demise, says that without Crime Analysis, the department has no statistics on how many crimes are gang-related. "However, gang-related incidents will be brought to the attention of our intelligence unit."

Salt Lake police estimate there are 20 to 30 gangs in the Salt Lake area with membership totaling 300 to 500 members. Most of them are Hispanic. The few Caucasian gangs rarely make news. Another is a very active Tongan gang, called the "Tongan Crips Gangsters." Of the approximately 100 black Crips and Bloods in the area, about 40 have moved here from Southern California, according to Chabries.

Acknowledging the existence of gangs is a positive step toward preventing their proliferation, said Stallworth, noting that police and community officials often turn a blind eye to the problem.

Salt Lake officials have been reluctant to acknowledge the existence of "gangs." An unwritten command by the previous police administration told officers they were not to use the term. "Youth group" or "youth association" became the euphem-isms for gang in the police reports.

Chabries has changed that to a large extent. He recognizes gangs exist but refuses to discuss them by name or give them any kind of legitimacy.

Detectives continue to shy away from questions about gangs, sometimes because they don't know and other times because they're afraid of getting reprimanded by their superiors.

Another problem, according to Stallworth, is for police to require irrefutable proof before saying a crime is gang-related or a suspect is a gang member.

"Law enforcement has a hard time identifying Crips. Suspects don't admit to it. They don't always wear the colors. And there's a lot of wanna-be's. But if you tell me you're a Crip or if you identify with the Crips or do gang-type things, as far as I'm concerned, you're a Crip and I'll treat you like one."

The long-term potential for Crips/Bloods problems aside, a more immediate concern may arise this spring and summer.

Police and others close to the street gang world are noticing increased tensions and aggressions among the local gangs.

One Salt Lake officer who asked not to be quoted said more youths are carrying guns now than ever before.

"Some kids I dealt with 10 years ago are coming up to me and saying, `Be careful. Things are different today. Kids now will shoot you without thinking twice.' That's an ominous warning to me."

Non-gang youth are aware of the changing times and are concerned.

One teenage girl who was afraid to have her name published said a friend of hers just returned from Los Angeles.

"He says he's a Blood. He wears the colors. He hangs out with Bloods and he's carrying a gun. I won't even associate with him anymore.

"It was getting bad last summer. Now it's getting real bad. I'm scared for this summer. Everyone I know carries (a weapon). It used to be knives, brass knuckles or bats. Now, they're carrying guns."

*****

(ADDITIONAL INFORMATION)

GANGSPEAK

HOMEBOY. A loyal gang member, or someone from the neighborhood accepted by the gang.

WANNA-BE. Someone who "wants to be" a gang member but is generally not welcome. To become a gang member, one must prove himself - usually by being beaten by other gang members or committing a felony.

TO GET CRAZY. To stir up trouble or go looking for a fight. A similar term is "gang-banging", which simply means the activities of the gang.

CRACK. A highly addictive cocaine derivative that is smoked. An ounce of cocaine purchased for $500 in California and cooked into crack is worth about $3,000 in Utah. uz. Nickname for a Crip. Gang members use it in greetings and in graffiti.

CRIPS. A black gang originating in Los Angeles in the late l960s. Entered the crack trade in the early l980s. Protects turf with automatic weapons. Strong enforcement pushed Crips into other cities, where they have firmly established themselves.

CUZ. Nickname for a Crip. Gang members use it in greetings and in graffiti.

BLOODS. A gang that sprouted off the Crips and is now a rival to them. Activities and structure are similar. Proliferation is not as great.

COLORS. Some gangs, particularly the Crips and Bloods, wear a certain color while shunning the color of a rival gang. For Crips, the color is blue. For Bloods, it's red.