Salt Lake County is putting up the money for a two-year trial program to see if a regional approach can help prevent and suppress gang activity.
The County Council on Tuesday released $129,000 this year, and agreed to spend another $190,000 next year, to hire a coordinator of anti-gang efforts countywide and a researcher to collect data needed to determine what’s working and what’s not.
» Salt Lake City’s is part of the FBI-led “Safe Streets” program.
» The Unified Police Department is part of the Metro Gang Unit, aka Salt Lake Area Gang Project, whose board includes representatives of federal (U.S. attorney’s office, marshals service and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), state (corrections and adult probation and parole) and local agencies (county district attorney, county sheriff’s office and Granite School District police).
"This all comes back to what I’ve been saying over the last year," said Mayor Ben McAdams. "Wherever government functions don’t reflect the world we live in, we’ll change."
But the county’s not going to foot the bill forever, he stressed, noting twice that these funds will be used only to cover "start-up costs to overcome hurdles to coordination" between, primarily, Salt Lake City and the Unified Police Department (UPD).
Both law-enforcement agencies have gang units, each with a different approach.
"If we’re not under one roof, at least we should be playing from one sheet of music," said County Sheriff Jim Winder, who also oversees the UPD. He welcomed the hiring of a coordinator who could take a holistic look at the situation as an independent third party and come up with "sociologically validated information" about ways to curb gang activity.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank pledged his agency’s commitment to the endeavor, but added that he thought more attention should be paid to stopping young people from getting involved in gangs in the first place. By the time law enforcement deals with gang members, it’s too late.
"This needs to be a comprehensive fight against gangs," Burbank said, involving schools, after-school programs and community leaders coming together to "evaluate what we do as a society to prevent a young person from participating in gangs."
That all sounds good, said County Councilman Steve DeBry and a deputy chief in the UPD. "But how do these gears mesh? What is this person [the coordinator] going to do?"
Responded Winder: "We’re hiring an expert who can come in, communicate with us, and formulate a game plan." His answer apparently satisfied DeBry, who joined in a unanimous vote to release the funding.
Once the plan comes together, it will be up to city police and the UPD to take it from there, McAdams said. "After two years, it stands on its own two feet or not."
Funding for the coordination team comes from a bill McAdams pushed through the Legislature in 2012, ending a windfall redevelopment agencies received when other taxing entities raised taxes.
The bill redirected $1.75 million back to the county with the mayor’s pledge to use the funding for regional projects. The County Council has earmarked most of the money — $1.34 million — to unify the two 911 emergency dispatch systems currently being used in the county.
A committee headed by David Litvack of the county’s Criminal Justice Advisory Council will hire the coordinator and researcher.
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