The presence of uniformed officers in Salt Lake City's Liberty Park will increase after a weekend gang-related shooting left one man injured and shattered an otherwise peaceful summer afternoon in the park.
A 14-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy were booked into juvenile detention in connection with the 4:54 p.m. shooting Sunday near the park concession stand and the entrance to Tracy Aviary. Police say the persons involved were affiliated with rival gangs.
Formal charges are still pending, Salt Lake police detective Dwayne Baird said.
Police and Mayor Rocky Anderson called the incident "a random act of gang violence" at a park news conference Tuesday, emphasizing the park is, overall, very safe.
"We don't anticipate any further violence in Liberty Park," assistant police chief Carroll Mays said. "We believe Liberty Park is a safe environment."
There have been some instances of violence in the park. But for the most part, calls to the park are related to missing children, possession of alcohol or drugs and other minor legal infractions, Mays said.
Department patrol officers are regularly in the area, the number of officers varying with each shift, and a city gang unit also places undercover officers there on a regular basis. In fact, two officers had just finished duty in the park before the shooting and a third officer was there and heard the three shots fired, police said.
Just how police coverage of the area will change, however, was not specifically discussed.
"Obviously, I'm not going to detail the days and times," Mays said.
Calling the park the "jewel of Salt Lake City," Anderson said such acts of violence will not be tolerated. He said the police will be vigilant in their investigations, arrests and prosecutions.
The public can help keep the community safe by alerting police to illegal activity, Anderson added. Salt Lake police have a telephone tip line — 799-INFO (4636) — where information can be given anonymously with rewards paid for tips that result in arrest and prosecution, he said. In the four years the tip line has been in existence, some $6,500 in rewards have been paid.
The mayor also called upon Utah lawmakers to enhance the penalties for juveniles in possession of firearms. Depending on the circumstances, under current law anyone under the age of 18 in possession of a gun is guilty of either a class A or B misdemeanor. Punishments range from probation to confinement in a secure facility for various lengths of time, depending on the extent of an offender's criminal history. Anderson has no specific proposal for an enhancement law, but believes a tougher penalty might serve as a deterrent, his spokeswoman Deeda Seed said later. Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he'd consider such legislation, but wonders if a change in law is really necessary or if solving the problem can be achieved through passing more gun legislation. "I agree that there's a problem out there," said Waddoups, who frequently carries gun bills on the hill. "City prosecutors need to step up and do their jobs. I believe the issue is a court issue. If (Anderson) has a concern with what the judiciary is doing or that the Legislature hasn't give them the tools he needs, we may need to look at it. But I believe the tools are ere."