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Salt Lake City is on the verge of setting a record, only this one is nothing to brag about. So far, 19 homicides have been recorded for 1995. That puts the city on track toward breaking the previous high of 25 in one year.

Add in the number of dead from the rest of Salt Lake County and the total comes to 26.The reasons are clear. A rise in drug use and gang activity has made the Wasatch Front a more dangerous place. Methamphetamine labs now dot many neighborhoods. Their presence is a danger in many ways. Such labs are highly flammable, and explosions could kill or maim neighbors. Meanwhile, the drugs they produce induce feelings of anxiety and paranoia in users. That tends to lead to violence. Other drugs also induce similar problems.

Is such crime a natural byproduct of growth? Perhaps, but residents shouldn't throw up their hands and resign themselves to accepting it. Neither should they ignore it simply because it hasn't hit their neighborhood yet.

Like all criminals, drug dealers and gang members prefer to operate under a cloak of darkness. Neighborhood watch groups, organized under police supervision, provide a spotlight for inhibiting their activities. They also tend to unite good citizens in the common cause of improving their surroundings. Every neighborhood should form one.

Meanwhile, residents need to petition city hall for more police resources, even if that means taking money away from other worthy projects. In Salt Lake City, officers already have stopped responding to minor traffic accidents and other crimes. They are too busy trying to keep up with the major problems. Law enforcement shouldn't be caught short handed at a time when criminals seem to be multiplying.

There is another side to violent crime. Drug sales wouldn't be a problem if the demand didn't exist. Drug users tend to come from all walks of life and all income groups. They aren't likely to quit on their own. Again, residents and police should work hand-in-hand to identify these people and bring them to justice.

The head of Salt Lake City's homicide unit was quoted recently as saying the city has graduated, in a sense, because of its rising murder rate. Presumably he meant it was beginning to experience the types of crimes normally associated with the largest and most dangerous cities.

It's time to show the criminals that school is still in session.