Law enforcement discusses efforts to reduce gang violence in Utah

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah -- The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah, the FBI and local law enforcement leaders teamed up in March for an initiative to cut down on gang violence in Salt Lake County.

Since then there have been 54 federal indictments against gang members.

“Right now, in Utah and particularly in Salt Lake County, we face a strong surge in gang violence that results in shootings and homicides,” said John Huber, U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah.

Huber’s partners said there were 90 drive-by shootings in the county in 2017. Over the last several years, drive-by shootings have skyrocketed, rising 185 percent.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said there are 800,000 gang members in the United States and 4,000 of them live in Salt Lake County. Her team has also identified 30 to 40 active gangs, and of those 10 of them are considered the most aggressive.

“A couple of months ago we lost two innocent victims due to gang violent crimes,” Rivera said.

She is referring to the September gang-related incident in Kearns.

“This is a deep societal problem, violent crime is throughout the United States,” Huber said.

The number of gang-related cases filed in Utah from year to year show an increase. Through the end of October in 2015 there were 126 cases, a number that rose to 136 in the same period in 2016 and to 163 in 2017.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently quoted the FBI, who said there has been a 7 percent rise in violent crime across the country over the last two years. The homicide rate has gone up 20 percent over that same time.

The other challenge is the youth becoming gang members.

“We are seeing kids—10, 11, 12, 13—carrying guns, committing crimes,” said Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown. “I think there is something to say that the older generations are getting the younger kids to carry the gun because there may be a lighter sentence, but that is kind of a false pretense because when you commit that crime: we will deal with it very seriously.”

Huber said he needs the community’s help to stop this problem.

“How do we fix society?” Huber said. “Well, we need to start earlier. By the time it gets to my desk it’s almost too late to help someone restore and repair their lives. We will try, but it’s hard. So, we need to start younger, and that is not a job for a prosecutor. That is not a job for a police chief. That’s a job for us as a community, as a whole. Youth groups, parents, aunts and uncles, mentors, faith groups: We all need to do our part to help young people realize that this path of gang violence is a dead end road.”