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Utah Legislature: Bill promotes gang prevention in schools, community

Kyle Haycock, left, Jason Harmer and Britton Hogan yell during anti-gang activity at Sandy's Brookwood Elementary.
Kyle Haycock, left, Jason Harmer and Britton Hogan yell during anti-gang activity at Sandy's Brookwood Elementary.
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

SANDY — Belt buckles with the number 13, as well as red or blue bandannas, are forbidden accessories for Jordan School District students.

While Jordan District has specific gang prevention policies in place, not every district in Utah is addressing the issue.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, is proposing a bill that would require school districts statewide to implement gang prevention and intervention policies. SB59 is scheduled to be discussed by the Senate Education Committee Thursday morning.

"First, we need to acknowledge we do have a problem, more prominent in some areas," Robles said. "But the reality is it's happening everywhere. We see it on the east side, on the west side on the north and south."

Throwing a double punch toward gang violence, Robles is also proposing SJR2, which urges state and local governments to work together to combat and reduce gang activity. The resolution was discussed last year outside the legislative session and favorably recommended by the Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.

SB59 offers guidelines but allows for school districts to differ somewhat on their gang prevention programs, depending on district demographics. "I understand the situation in San Juan County may not be the same as in Salt Lake County," Robles said.

Most school districts along the Wasatch Front already have gang prevention policies, including some through the Safe Schools Policy.

Brett Wilson, program specialist for Student Intervention Services in the Jordan District, says the district has excellent gang prevention guidelines in place. "But this is just the Wasatch Front," he said. "Not everyone has this."

Jordan District parents are informed twice a year about the school dress code, including what clothing and logos are unacceptable. For example, shirts with the hatchet man logo of the Insane Clown Posse rap group are forbidden because it is associated with "Juggalos," who are fans of the rap group. Utah authorities have classified Juggalos as a gang because of a continued pattern of criminal activity.

The district's gang prevention program includes school counselors and licensed clinical social workers doing in-depth counseling in groups, home visits and working one-on-one with students.

The district provides gang prevention training to administration and staff. Educators meet quarterly with gang task force members.

Verne Larsen, Safe District and School Coordinator for the State Office of Education, said he supports both the bill and the resolution. "We all need to be working together," he said. "We need to continue to strengthen partnerships."

Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said he hadn't had a chance to review either the bill or resolution closely, but on the surface, they both seemed OK.

For his department, however, he said either piece of legislation would essentially result in business as usual, especially the resolution urging local police to work with community leaders.

To see the bill, go to le.utah.gov/~2010/htmdoc/sbillhtm/sb0059.htm.

To see the resolution, go to le.utah.gov/~2010/htmdoc/sbillhtm/sjr002.htm.

Contributing: Pat Reavy

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