Salt Lake City has a police unit focused on preventing and suppressing gang activity.
So does the Unified Police Department, which covers much of Salt Lake County outside of the capital city.
The Unified Police Department is a leading agency in the Salt Lake Area Gang Project, also known as Metro Gang Unit. Its governing board includes federal (U.S. attorney’s office, marshals service and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), state (corrections and adult probation and parole) and local governments (Salt Lake County district attorney, County Sheriff’s Office and UPD) and the Granite School District Police Department.
Salt Lake City’s gang unit is part of the FBI-led Safe Streets program.
But the two gang units approach their jobs differently, making it hard to conceive of either abandoning its way of doing business and forging a single team pursuing the same tactics.
So Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams has proposed hiring a researcher to develop data on gang activity throughout the county and a coordinator to help ensure gang units from Salt Lake City and UPD know what the other is doing and don’t waste resources.
McAdams persuaded the County Council on Tuesday to authorize him to set aside $189,000 to hire people to fill these two positions — but he can’t spend it until he gets assurances that all the pertinent parties are willing to participate, mostly Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City police officials were not present for the discussion, which was partly responsible for the resistance of County Councilmen David Wilde and Richard Snelgrove toward releasing the money.
And while consolidating gang units has been discussed by the multi-agency Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC), McAdams’ proposal is worth looking into, said department spokeswoman Lara Jones.
"Everyone says research needs to be done on a countywide basis. Gangs don’t respect jurisdictional boundaries," Jones said. "We look forward to see what happens. Having information from a regional perspective, when it comes to gangs in the Salt Lake Valley, is crucial intelligence. Knowledge is power."
County Sheriff Jim Winder was present. He also endorsed the effort.
"Law enforcement is splintered and approaching gang enforcement from two distinct models. Both will argue their positions are best," Winder said. "We need an independent person to provide guidance and some long-term analysis of what does and doesn’t work. Somebody has to say what’s best. This takes the politics out of the issue. It’s a very good step forward."
McAdams came up with the money to hire the two people through legislation he pushed last session, ending a windfall redevelopment agencies received when various taxing entities raised taxes.
To get the bill through, he promised lawmakers to use $1.75 million returned to the county for regional projects across the valley. The council unanimously backed his plan to spend most of the money — $1.34 million — on putting the 911 emergency dispatch system on a single software program accessible by all.
But there was more resistance to the $189,000 allocation for gang-unit supervision.
"There seems to be unanimity on the purpose of [unifying] 911," Snelgrove said. "But on this one, it looks like we’re being asked to bring in another layer [of government] to be a broker or peacemaker between these divergent groups. I’m not so certain that doesn’t exacerbate the situation."
He and Wilde also were concerned the county could be stuck with ongoing bills for the coordinator and researcher salaries, although McAdams said he was asking only for a one-time appropriation. He also agreed with the councilmen’s position that the officials’ ongoing salaries should be paid by UPD, Salt Lake City and other partner cities.
Snelgrove was not convinced — "$189,000 to accomplish what?" he asked, "with no apparent end game beyond wishful thinking."
"There is an end game," McAdams responded, citing ongoing discussions of the issue within CJAC. He pledged not to hire a coordinator until the city and UPD gang units both endorse the concept.
The council majority backed the mayor’s plan, but not without reservations. Noted Councilman Michael Jensen: "I’m supportive, but I want to see what we’re going to get [with our money]. I think UPD does gangs the right way, but I’m biased because they’re law enforcement where I live [in Magna]."
McAdams said that if a coordinator and researcher are hired, questions remain about whom they would report to and where they would be based. He agreed with the council position that it seemed most appropriate for the gang coordinators to report to CJAC.
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