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Conferences explores social networking and gang recruitment link

By Sandra Yi | Posted - Apr. 8, 2010 at 4:43 p.m.



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SANDY -- Here's another reason why parents need to monitor what their kids are doing online: Gang detectives say more and more gangs use cyberspace to spread their messages.

This isn't a new issue, but detectives say it's becoming more prevalent.


Approximately 1 million gang members belonging to more than 20,000 gangs are criminally active. -FBI

If you go to MySpace, for example, and type in the name of a gang, you'll get hundreds of profiles.

But researchers say there's no way of knowing which profiles belong to documented gang members or people just posing as one.

That was one discussion at the annual Utah Gang Conference in Sandy Thursday.

Two professors from Minnesota have been researching the link between social networking sites and gang recruitment. They say there's no data to show just how prevalent the problem is, but there's a lot of gang influence on those sites, which can affect young kids.

They say that's why parents need to be aware of what their children are looking at online.

**Did you know…**![](http://media.bonnint.net/slc/1381/138116/13811680.jpg)
In Utah there are: • 2-3 gang members per 1,000 people • 2-3 gang members per law enforcement officer Compared to: • 5-7 gang members per 1,000 in California • 8-11 gang members per 1,000 in Illinois • 4-6 gang members per law enforcement officer in Calif. and Ill. -*[FBI's Natl. Gang Threat Assessment 2009](http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs32/32146/index.htm)*
Researcher Mario Hesse at St. Cloud State University said, "If it's truly happening, then we want to be able to provide the information that we find to law enforcement agencies to say, 'Here, this is what we found, what can you do with it?'"

A gang detective from St. George agrees, saying parents should have the password to their children's online profiles.

Detective Johnny Heppler has seen gang members use social networking sites to spark fights, and then the fights spill over onto the street. He also says these sites allow gang members to share information quickly.

"If I'm in a gang and I've got 500 friends of mine and I want to show them something cool that I did as a gang member, or a crime that I committed, then I can show it to them all at the touch of a button," Heppler said.

The gang conference is an annual training event for law enforcement and other agencies. It continues Friday at the South Towne Expo Center.

E-mail: syi@ksl.com

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