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DON’T CONFRONT GANG MEMBERS

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If you witness gang members spraying graffiti or walking around carrying weapons, what is the appropriate thing for a law-abiding citizen to do?

Don't try to be a hero, advises detective Brent Pace, West Jordan Metro Gang Force. Or you may end up a dead hero.Members of the West Jordan Chamber of Commerce invited Pace to instruct them on what to do about gangs in their community.

"Don't confront a gang member. They will pull out a gun and shoot you without hesitation. They usually carry at least one gun and sometimes as many as six guns."

Pace was on duty during the July 24 gang-related shooting that occurred as people lined Salt Lake City's Main Street waiting for the annual parade to begin.

Pace was across the street when the shooting started and reported hearing bullets whiz past his head. People scattered like a flock of birds, not knowing where the shots were coming from, said Pace. A 15-year-old boy who had been shot twice slumped down on the curb.

Police arrested suspects. Just hours later, a 16-year-old boy admitted he had been involved and showed officers the .25-caliber automatic he had hidden inside his underwear.

"If you see suspicious gang activity, report it immediately to police. Let them know the location of the gang members and anything specific about the way they are dressed," he advises.

The most effective way for citizens to combat gang activity is to influence Utah lawmakers to change laws, Pace said.

"To begin to fight gang activity, citizens must insist on more strict laws. The criminal justice system isn't doing its job. If citizens don't change laws, then I'm afraid there will be vigilante activity in this valley," he said.

Because Salt Lake City has the reputation nationwide of being a safe place to live, families with teenage gang members are moving to Utah. "A lot of Utah kids are getting caught up with gangs that originated in California. It's becoming a serious problem here."

Domestic violence takes priority over dealing with gang activities, said Pace. So it's difficult for officers to respond in a timely manner to calls relating to gang activities. Citizens need to let lawmakers know that curtailing gang activity should be more of a priority.

Gang members have no respect for human life, said Pace.

"If you confront them and try to deal with them directly, they'll drive by your home and begin shooting. And they regard police as `the enemy,' gaining special status if they kill one. We need the help of citizens in lobbying lawmakers to make the playing field more even."

Because there isn't a main gathering place for gang members in West Jordan, citizens may wrongly believe there isn't much gang activity.

The telltale sign is the graffiti that can be found throughout the city.

"In West Jordan, we can't solve the entire gang problem in the state but I think we can be successful in getting gangs out of this community," said Pace.

"We need to provide order, structure, discipline and security through our sports programs, schools, family and church. We have to save gang members one by one."