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GANGS LEAVING `CALLING CARDS’ AT INCREASING RATE AROUND PROVO

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Gangs are leaving their marks all over Provo.

In the past two weeks, dozens of spray-painted gang names, initials and insignia have shown up on buildings, signs, bus benches and electrical boxes throughout the city. Black, green and blue graffiti can be found on Center Street, University Avenue and 900 East."We have been hit with just tons of it lately," said Lt. Greg Du Val, commander of the Provo Police Gang Task Force.

Police believe two or three local gangs are responsible for most of the vandalism. Arrests are difficult to make unless police catch gang members with paint cans.

"The activity is increasing at a very rapid rate with these particular gangs. They want to be visible. They want everyone to recognize them," Du Val said.

A north University Avenue convenience store was hit early Thursday morning. Du Val said it appears to be the work of local and out-of-town gang members.

"I'm upset," said the owner watching two men scrub blue paint off the wall. "I would just like it to come to a halt before it goes too far. I think we as parents need to know this is in our midst and do something about it."

The owner did the right thing in immediately notifying police and covering the graffiti, Du Val said.

"By leaving it out, it encourages more of it to occur," he said. Rival gangs would paint their signs and names nearby.

Whether residents want to believe it or not, Du Val said, gang activity is on the rise in Provo.

"Most of our gangs around here have ties to the Crips," he said. "We're seeing violence between rival groups. That's just going to escalate."

In the past two months, opposing gangs have squared off in violent confrontations four or five times. Gang members have sometimes brandished weapons, Du Val said.

Last month, a Utah County deputy sheriff arrested three men and a juvenile for spray painting gang symbols on a bridge near Saratoga Resort. The adults were charged with criminal mischief, a third-degree felony, and prosecutors intended to add a gang-enhancement provision which would provide for stiffer penalties upon conviction.