Midvale Chief of Police John Patience has spent years identifying and tracking gangs. Now he's drawn a tough line:
"If anyone is arrested for gang-related crimes, I will ask for the maximum penalty - whether they be juveniles or adults," Patience said.Patience means business. So does Midvale Mayor Everett Dahl, who with the City Council has armed Patience with ammunition to protect the city line.
In fact, Midvale has taken a lead among suburban cities launching pro-active programs to combat rising gang activity.
"The gang problem increases daily. Any community that does not take pro-active action will soon be identified as an ideal center for gang activities," said Councilwoman Joanne Seghini.
"Gang members, when interviewed over the last two years, have indicated that they view the Wasatch Front as the `big easy' or the ideal place for gang takeover. There is a ready market for drugs, and law enforcement does not seem to be effective," she said.
Seghini, who recently attended a two-day conference on gang problems, said the perception is based on the fact that "as a public we have tried to ignore that there is a problem."
Midvale, eager to change that perception, has initiated several tactics. The city:
- Removes any graffiti on public property - in the parks, rest-rooms, underpass - within 36 hours. Businesses and private citizens are asked to follow suit.
- Enforces a 1 a.m. curfew for all minors up to age 18.
- Appropriated $7,200 in the new budget to hire a crime-prevention consultant to reinstitute the neighborhood watch program.
- Will hire one new police officer and 15 reservists to help in crime prevention.
"We figure if we can prevent a crime, that's better than shooting the criminal after he commits it," Dahl said.
Murray and Sandy City, too, are boosting their police forces - in part because of the wave of gang-related crimes.
Sandy's new budget provides funds for hiring five additional officers.
"One of the primary justifications was to have officers to deal with the juvenile population in general and gang issues in particular," Sandy Mayor Larry Smith said. "We want to deal with the problem while it is in its infancy instead of when it's completely out of control."
Murray's police force will be increased by two.
"Gangs are part of the reason. But the main reason is that our business community has grown and more people are visiting the city," said Murray Mayor Lynn Pett. "But gangs are a serious problem."
Pett said police reports are evidence that gang activity is on the increase in the suburbs.
"There's been more activity than there has in the past and we have to stop it before it goes further," he said. "But the police aren't the only answer. It's getting kids involved in programs."
Seghini agrees. She's calling for workshops to educate parents about the signs and problems inherent in gang membership. Additionally, she wants the city to look at rezoning all property currently zoned for high-density housing.
"Our city size and the size of our police department demands that we consider the health and safety of all our residents and not allow the population to overwhelm our police service," she said.