Meeting held to figure out way to end gang violence

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KSL team coverageLaw enforcement and local leaders say they're more focused than ever on stopping gang violence. This after a drive-by shooting killed a 7-year-old girl.

A meeting was held today at the Centro Civico Mexicano. The message in today's meeting was ownership, that people living in troubled communities have to work proactively to fix the problems.

The meeting was prompted by recent gang violence that made headlines today. The three people accused in a drive-by shooting that killed Maria Menchacha made their first appearance in court this morning. All are charged as adults.

Meeting held to figure out way to end gang violence

Law enforcement says it's that case that has them stepping up efforts to catch violent gang members. Capt. Jim Potter, the head of the investigations division with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, said, "Obviously, we can't sustain that forever because we have to go back and do those other things, too. But any time that we need to answer for something tragic that happens because of those violent criminals, then we're going to answer that."

Meeting held to figure out way to end gang violence

Potter says that in the days following Maria Menchaca's murder, police arrested 20 people, recovered four stolen vehicles, an assault rifle and three handguns.

Potter also noted that since then, with more focused surveillance, law enforcement officers are arresting a couple gang-affiliated criminals a day. Case in point, yesterday Salt Lake City Metro Gang Units followed and arrested a woman and a man wanted on felony fugitive charges. Officers spotted them on their way to a Smith's Grocery store in Murray.

Meeting held to figure out way to end gang violence

And before that, the gang unit arrested a man when he was going through a McDonald's drive-through in Midvale. Potter says, "The guy that we took down last night is wanted for a crime in Midvale where he actually tried to lock a victim up in a shed and set fire to it. I mean, these are very vicious people that we are focusing on."

Sgt. Scott Teerlink told the group, "There's no way we're going to arrest our way out a gang problem. There's no way we're going to react to gang problems and have them go away."

Tony Yapias, with Projecto Latino De Utah said it's going to take that, plus the help of the community to make a real difference. "The Boys and Girls Club are doing a lot to help the youth, but we have to start with the parents. Parents have to take responsibility. This is an issue they have to realize is becoming more serious."

Holladay resident Peggy Wilson agrees that the community needs to step up. But she wants people to realize that gang members come from all ethnic groups. She said, "We live in America. It's no longer just white, so we need a community consensus that we are all entitled to be safe, happy and prosperous."

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker also met with community leaders and police, about gang violence today. Becker, who was criticized in a newspaper editorial for not taking enough action on the problem, says this is a community issue. He says intervention is critical, and some of the resources are already in place to make that happen. "We are not going to eliminate gangs. We are going to make it so uncomfortable for gangs and give kids lots of opportunities to do other things," he said.

A result of today's meeting is the start of a Salt Lake Latino Community Council, which hopes to work closely with the mayor and police chief. It plans to have more meetings and a summit to address gang violence.

E-mail: ngonzales

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Nicole Gonzales, Sarah Dallof


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