MAGNA — A recent uptick in gang violence on Salt Lake County's west side, mainly in Magna, has members of the Metro Gang Unit working overtime.
But officials hope a key arrest made this week will finally curb the violence.
In the first 21 days of 2018, there were at least seven drive-by shootings or shots fired incidents in Magna and West Valley City, resulting in one death and two injuries. All but two of those incidents were in Magna.
• Jan. 3: A drive-by shooting was reported near 3165 S. 8100 South. No injuries were reported.
• Jan. 3: A driver reported being shot at by someone in another vehicle near 3500 South and 4400 West. No injures were reported.
• Jan. 6: A drive-by shooting was reported near 2723 S. 8900 West. No injuries were reported.
• Jan. 16: A 17-year-old boy and an adult bystander were shot near 7250 W. 3500 South. None of the injuries were life-threatening.
• Jan. 18: A 15-year-old boy was shot and killed while driving a minivan with three other friends near 4100 South Bangerter. No arrests had been made as of Wednesday.
• Jan. 19: Shots exchanged between two vehicles near 8500 W. 3660 South. There were no reports of injuries.
• Jan. 21: Shots were fired at a home during a drive-by shooting near 2900 S. 8650 West.
Unified Police Lt. Brian Lohrke said in at least one incident, investigators were called to a house that already had bullet holes in it from a previous incident.
While violent confrontations involving guns can be found "all over the valley," said Mike Schonfeld, head of the Metro Gang Unit, "it just seems to be a little more prevalent in the Magna area at this particular time."
The recent "uptick" in violence predominantly involves juveniles, he said.
"It is the same groups shooting at each other," Schonfeld said.
But earlier this week, Schonfeld said the gang unit, which has been making extra patrols and other concentrated enforcement efforts in the Magna area, made what investigators consider a "pretty vital arrest." Details about the arrest were not immediately available as detectives believed the suspect could be tied to several drive-by shootings and lead to other arrests.
"A lot of what we're seeing in Magna is going to be in relation to two groups and not even a handful of people that are going back and forth. And now that we have one key arrest and we're looking for a second, we're probably going to stifle that for a while. We hope," he said. "We're making headway. It's just slowly coming together for us."
Schonfeld said he believed gang recruitment was up because of social media.
"I think what we're seeing is it's a lot easier to join a gang now. They're a lot more connected with social media. They're not making them (do) 'blood in, blood out.' They used to have to fight so many gang members to get into the gang, then fight so many members to get out. Now you just have to commit crimes and prove you've committed them to the gang and they'll let you become a gang member," he said.
While Unified police and the Metro Gang Unit continue to work daily with other local and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as the Salt Lake County District Attorney Office's juvenile crime unit, to make arrests and prosecutions, Schonfeld said police are also working with school districts to educate students about staying out of gangs.Comment on this story
"(Gangs) are recruiting down into the elementary level. We're attacking this on the fifth-grade level here with our school districts and our Choose Gang Free program. We're doing prevention classes in four out of the five districts at the fifth- and sixth-grade level trying to get these kids to understand the perils of becoming a gang member and the consequences of your choices," he said.
The shootings on the west side seem to continue a trend started last year. The Unified Police Department conducted 13 homicide investigations in its jurisdiction in 2017, resulting in 15 deaths. All but two of those cases happened in the Kearns-Magna-Taylorsville area.