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Utah officers gather in Sandy for annual gang conference

SANDY, Utah — Law enforcement officers from the around the state gathered in Sandy Thursday for Utah's 27th annual gang conference, in which officials discuss ways to solve Utah's ongoing gang problem.

The rise of social media has been a blessing and a curse for police involved in gang investigations. Young gangsters often use social media to flaunt their lifestyles, police said, and this tends to glamorize so-called "thug life."

But social media postings by suspected gang members also give police another source of evidence as they work to solve gang-related crimes.

The growing trend of minors getting involved in gangs is particularly troubling for local officers, prosecutors and school officials. Older gang members, police say, are using schools as recruiting grounds and some of those recruits are as young as middle-school age. Police hope their own message about gangs will resonate with those kids.

"Death or prison. Those are your only two choices, if you choose [the gang] lifestyle," said Lt. Mike Schoenfield, an officer with the Salt Lake Area Gang Project in Salt Lake County. "So, it's disturbing to us that we are trying to make that dent in that membership down at the elementary school level. We focus on fifth and eighth graders, but we still see a rise in the membership and the recruitment of those young people."