Police discuss rise of juvenile involvement in violent crime at annual Utah Gang Conference

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Salt Lake Area Metro Gang Unit reported gangs are recruiting younger juveniles to become violent gang members. Some recruits, they said, are as young as 10 years old.

“It is getting more violent,” said Lt. Mike Schonfeld of Salt Lake’s Gang Metro Task Force. “We're seeing a lot more juvenile-on-juvenile homicides.”

The Metro Gang Task Force is hosting its annual 2018 Utah Gang Conference Wednesday and Thursday to update the public as well as local and national agencies on how to combat rising gang violence among our youth.

“This is not just a police department issue, it’s not a just a family issue, it’s not just a school issue: Everybody has to come together and work this thing out,” Lt. Schonfeld said.

He reported that from fiscal year 2016 to 2017, the task force removed 100 firearms from juvenile gang members, and this fiscal year they are on track to double that number. So far from July 2017 to April 2018, they have confiscated 175 firearms from juvenile gang members.

“We had several drive-bys out on the west side right at the first part of the year,” Schonfeld said. “In that case, we took a bunch of juveniles into custody out there in Magna and a total of 11 firearms just off of those five juveniles that were causing all those issues.”

Part of the goal of the conference is for multiple agencies to learn how critical of a problem gang violence is among children, and there has been an effort to change state law so that juvenile gang consequences are harsher.

“We can take the firearm off an adult, we can get federal charges, they are going to do some real time in the federal system—but with the kids it’s a little difficult,” explained Lt. Schonfeld.

Utah Senate Minority Whip Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, sponsored a bill and got it signed by the governor during the last legislative session. The legislation aims to reduce gang violence by urging state and local governments to work together.

For more information about preventing gang recruitment, click here.