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Jed Boal reportingWhile there was a reported drop in gang crime two years ago, former members say gangs are growing now.
Gangs got serious and dangerous on the streets of Salt Lake more than a decade ago, and police fought back. In the late 90's, gang activity appeared to level off, and then drop. But some believe it just went underground.
Eric Doyle was a gang leader for more than ten years. The allure of easy money and power sucked him in as a teen, but the law closed in on him.
Eric Doyle/Former Gang Member: "I REMEMBER TIMES HEARING BULLETS WHIZZING BY MY EARS. MORE AND MORE ALL THE BAD THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO ME MADE ME WANT TO GET OUT."
More than 4,000 young people are living that life in the area, fueling a 50 percent rise in violent gang related crime.
Last month, a young boy was caught in gang crossfire at an amusement center. Last week, gunrfire erupted as gangs robbed four convenience stores in a day.
Doyle says gangs kept their crimes low-key for a few years to dodge police. Now, he says, they just don't seem to care.
Eric Doyle/Former Gang Member: "I REALLY DO BELIEVE IT HAS TO DO WITH THE ECONOMY. IT'S A SIGN OF THE TIMES."
The head of the Metro Gang Unit says gangs used to be like families for the disenfranchised. Now they're organized crime cells, dealing drugs and guns.
At the amusement center shooting, witnesses helped catch the suspect. He says that's the best solution.
Lt. Andy Burton/Metro Gang Unit Director: "PEOPLE ARE UNWILLING TO GET INVOLVED, THEY'RE TOO AFRAID TO BE INVOLVED. THAT'S GOT TO CHANGE."
Doyle changed his life and talks to groups about the dead end of gang-life.
Eric Doyle: "EVERY DAY IS A FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE. IF YOU AIN'T WATCHING YOUR BACK, YOU JUST MIGHT GET TAKEN OUT."
Detectives expect to see this trend continue in 2003. Fortunately, there are more sworn officers in combating gang activity now than in the 13 year history of the unit.