Utah County law enforcement officials say they've been successful at ganging up on Utah County gangs and they don't plan to back off any time soon.
Crimes involving organized gangs were identified in Utah County as early as 1988. By 1992, law enforcement throughout the county finally "realized that the gang problem was growing rapidly and that current approaches to the system were simply not effective enough," said Utah County Sheriff's Lt. Craig Turner said."It became obvious that a broad-based, coordinated, organized and communitywide approach would be necessary to control the spread (of gang activities)," Turner said.
Consequently, law enforcement officials created the Utah County Gang Project, an organization administered by the county sheriff's department and funded largely by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
In its first year, the project organized a community advisory board to assess the gang problem and develop strategies for dealing with it. Those strategies include:
- Educate all aspects of the community in the areas of gang awareness and prevention.
- Give each law-enforcement agency the opportunity to connect to the ULEIN and UCGIN computer information retrieval systems.
- Collect pertinent gang-related statistical information from all enforcement agencies in Utah County.
- Create and implement a countywide graffiti-removal and abatement program.
- Create and implement a countywide telephone hotline for reporting graffiti and gang-related problems.
- Upgrade the level of knowledge of street-level enforcement officers throughout the county.
According to Turner, the project coordinator, considerable headway has already been made in four of the six goals.
The task force has begun gang prevention and educational programs in half of the Alpine District's elementary schools and is working with minority groups on similar educational programs.
In addition, the project dedicated a telephone line for mobile telephone reports of gang or criminal activity and the task force's unified curfew was adopted by leaders in all but four Utah County cities and towns.
"We've made remarkable progress during our first year, and have overcome numerous obstacles that are directly related to a lack of funding," he said.
The Utah County Commission recently approved matching funding for the project's second year, and hope to receive grant money to make Turner the full-time project coordinator.
"We believe the key to controlling the criminal gang problem is early community recognition and intervention," Turner said. "We believe that we can control this disease in Utah County if we stay the course."