Facebook Twitter



Twelve highway patrol troopers went to work in Salt Lake City Wednesday as the city took advantage of Gov. Mike Leavitt's offer of assistance.

The city put four troopers on patrol in areas where tensions remain high following a double shooting Sunday that left two juveniles dead. The other eight officers joined the Metro Gang Task Force valley-wide.The offer of additional law enforcement help was part of a six-part plan Leavitt laid out in a news conference Tuesday in an attempt to quell residents' fears about their safety and to answer a call for help from the Salt Lake City Gang Task Force.

Although Leavitt said gang violence would not ultimately be solved through legislation or by spending money, he:

- Ordered double bunking at youth detention facilities. By next week, that will provide an additional 32 beds for hard-core juvenile offenders.

- Promised that by mid-November the Genesis work camp will be expanded to hold 72 juveniles.

- Asked the courts to speed up the process for certifying juveniles as adults, which will move some youth out of juvenile facilities and make room for others.

- Expanded guidelines for police to use to detain juveniles.

- Proposed creation of "serious youth offender" category for dealing with repeat juvenile criminals who would be housed in a new facility designed specifically for them.

Leavitt said the actions are part of a longer-term program he started one year ago to ensure the community stays "as free as possible from this kind of violence."

"I felt the same sense of just enormous emptiness and unspeakable horror that these kinds of things continue to creep deeper and deeper into our community," Leavitt said.

The ultimate key to eliminating such violence will be found not in government but in the community as people join together to make a difference in the lives of young people, Leavitt said.

"Youth violence is a generation-long, communitywide challenge," Leavitt said Tuesday in a news conference. "There is no single agency that can solve this problem alone. We can't legislate ourselves out of this dilemma."

Leavitt's call for the community to play a role in turning around the gang violence hit home with two women who've been on the front lines of the problem.

Ramona Gonzales and Madeline Walker both once lived in the Rose Park area. Their sons were friends. The boys also were later involved in separate gangs. Gonzales' sons eventually got out of the gangs, but she has a nephew still deeply entrenched in gang activity.

"My sons are trying to intervene and talk to him," Gonzales said.

Madeline Walker's son was less fortunate. Unable to escape the lure of gang lifestyle, he was involved in a shooting two weeks ago that left another youth dead. The boy is now in jail.

The two women attended Monday's gang task force meeting and were disappointed with its focus.

"All I heard in there was how important beds are," Gonzales said. "It's more important than the kids themselves. You're listening to someone talk that has no idea what it's like for those kids involved in gangs, how they feel and how their parents feel."

Gonzales and Walker are organizing a grass-roots effort to reach juveniles involved in gangs and their parents. Because of their experiences and connections, they're hopeful they'll be successful in reaching out to the hard-core gang members.

"We care about each other and we care about our kids. If we can do it," Gonzales says of her friendship and joint effort with Walker, "then they can do it."

Walker said she's tried to contact and get word to the family of the boy her son apparently shot. She wants to let them know how sorry she is about the turn of events.

Walker said she thinks "if parents of the opposing gangs could get together and talk, it could make a difference."

Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini called Leavitt's response a "good step forward."

"What we need are more secure beds to get the kids that are the criminal element off the streets. Those 32 beds will be half filled next week by kids already in detention," she said.

"What the governor did is positive, but it isn't quite enough to get hard-core kids off the streets," Corradini said.