The Salt Lake City Council informally approved earmarking $50,000 to bolster police anti-gang forces aimed at stopping the recruitment of California gang members to Utah.
The money will fund the Police Department's Gang Task Force Unit, convened last summer, enabling Chief Michael Chabries to pay 90 hours per week in overtime to staff the team."We're pleased that the council recognizes the potential impact of this problem," Chabries said after briefing the council at a meeting Thursday.
Council members approved the expenditure during an informal vote and must take formal action on the matter later.
"At this point in time we need to clamp down and clamp down hard," City Councilman Wayne Horrocks said of the city's gang problem.
Police officials have come to acknowledge gang activity in Utah, evidenced by wide-spread graffiti, gang violence, auto theft and other criminal activity.
Up to 300 gang members are active in Utah, although many of them are "want-to-be's," according to Salt Lake Police Maj. Bob Nievaard.
Chabries said the gang unit, now composed of five officers, was an effective force against gang activity this summer. Cold fall temperatures and the start of school were expected to scale back gang activity, he said.
"We're finding that just the opposite is occurring in the community,' Chabries told the council.
Increased graffiti incidents, rising gang connections to drug busts and information that more California gang members are arriving in Utah have led police to conclude gang activity is on the rise, Chabries said.
"The potential for problems is very real and we're very concerned," Chabries said.
Gang-unit strategy includes exhibiting a forceful presence in the community, Chabries said. "We want to show them that participating in criminal activity is not in their best interest because of our presence," he said.
Still, Chabries acknowledged, other sectors of the community must participate in an anti-gang effort.
Youth groups have played an important role in providing alternative activity for gang members, said Pete Suazo, executive assistant to Mayor Palmer DePaulis.
What's more, the gang unit, together with DePaulis, has played basketball with gang members and Chabries has a dinner scheduled with a gang Friday - all in an effort to develop a cooperative relationship.