Gang Crime On The Rise

Gang Crime On The Rise

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(Salt Lake City-AP) -- Gang violence is on the increase again in the Salt Lake area.

In one of the latest incidents, a Kearns home was the target of a drive-by shooting on Christmas morning.

The shooting was believed by the part of an ongoing gang war between the Tiny Oriental Posse and the Original Laotian Gangsters. They have been battling off and on for more than a decade, and police believe the conflict resulted in more than 25 shootings in recent months.

A 29-year-old West Valley City gang member was seriously wounded when he was shot in the stomach and leg early Sunday.

The feud is the most visible sign of the increasing gang violence that has plagued the valley for the last half year, said Sgt. Bill Robertson of the Salt Lake Area Gang Project.

Drive-by shootings have more than tripled from 16 in 2001 to 59 by last Oct. 31 -- 40 of them since June.

Ruben Salinas, 20, was shot to death on Nov. 24, in apparent retaliation for an earlier incident. Salt Lake City police arrested Jose Avilles, 17, and Jose Alfredo Torres, 17. They were charged as adults with first-degree felony murder.

On Dec. 1, Tony Fuailemaa, 25, was shot to death after leaving a nearby club. A 27-year-old man was arrested.

Police say gang violence rises and falls sporadically, though detectives attribute the latest increase in the valley to a slumping economy, influence from Los Angeles gangs, drug battles and -- more than any other factor -- the Asian gang feud.

The Asian gang war has included two firebombings and a driving gun fight.

Sandy police Detective Mike Ikemiyashiro, a member of the metro gang unit, said detectives have identified those most responsible for the shootings and firebombings and have increased surveillance at their homes and where they socialize.

"It's almost like their own little war," said Ikemiyashiro.

"I'm surprised there hasn't been (a bystander) hurt as a result of what is going on."

Police say gang members have tried to remove themselves from the spotlight they craved in the mid-1990s. Now they try to remain in the shadows, operating drug trades and committing robberies to make money.

"A lot of the violence and the gang activity is with drugs," Robertson said.

The turf battles that once centered around city blocks now regularly involve drug distribution areas, Ikemiyashiro said. Gang members are now used as drug debt collectors and some tax drug dealers within their neighborhoods.

Salt Lake Valley is not alone in experiencing a rise in gang violence. Cities from Los Angeles to Little Rock, Ark., have reported sharp increases in gang-related murders.

Officials in some cities say a major problem has been the shift in resources from gang suppression to combatting terrorism.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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