SALT LAKE CITY — Children as young as 10 years old are being enticed into street gangs around the state, and community leaders are looking for ways to stop it.
"This is a real crisis when you start getting kids involved in violent crime at that age," said Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera.
Rivera joined Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown, Sen. Karen Mayne, D-Magna, and Reps. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, and Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, at a news conference Friday to call attention to the problem.
Mayne and Hutchings are sponsoring a resolution, SCR12, that urges state and local governments to work together to reduce gang activity. They're also seeking $300,000 a year for school programs teaching children how to avoid gang life.
Gang members use every means possible to recruit children into their "family of violence," including social media and tattoos, Mayne said. They come across as gangbangers and they know how to engage children, she said.
"They use all the skills they have to trap these children into this lifestyle," Mayne said.
Though recent shootings have heightened sensitivity about school safety, recruiting children into gangs shouldn't be overlooked, Hutchings said.
"As we look at ways of keeping kids safe, it's not just about those momentary tragic things that'll make the national news, but it’s the individual tragedies also," he said.
Hutchings said many kids don't know a different way of life and they get stuck into gang violence. They need mentors to show them a better way, he said.1 comment on this story
The Granite School District along with the Salt Lake Metro Gang Unit offer the Choose Gang Free program in six elementary schools. It's designed to teach children about the consequences of gang membership and how they're in control of their choices.
But it doesn't receive funding from the state, said district spokesman Ben Horsely The district, which encompasses some of the highest crime areas in Salt Lake County, could use state money to expand the program to other schools.
"We're appreciative of our legislative leaders in this community taking up the weight to increase that funding and those grants so that Granite School District might be a recipient of future funding," he said.