Team effort to curb gang activity
October 14, 2008
Detective Andrew Burton was hired by the Summit County Sheriff’s Department to curb gang activity, but that doesn’t mean that he drives around in his patrol car all day looking to arrest suspicious individuals. Burton said that enforcement is the last resort when it comes to deterring gang activity.
Instead, Burton has been giving presentations and working with schools and community groups to share information they can use to identify and help youngsters who may be involved in gang activity. He has given more than 15 presentations in the last six months. Most recently, Burton gave a presentation at the Oct. 7 school board meeting. His hour-long presentation gave listeners clues to help them identify kids who may be involved with gangs, or may have interest in gang activity.
This topic has become a rising concern among schools and law enforcement in Summit County. Burton said that there are about 100 registered gang members in Summit County, and about 70 of those were identified within the last year. Burton said that about eight registered gang members attend schools in the Park City School District (PCSD).
The sheriff’s office has identified an additional 60 "persons of interest" in Summit County. These are people who, they suspect, are involved with gangs, but there isn’t enough evidence to put them on the list of registered gang members. According to Burton, of those 60 persons of interest, about 35 attend schools in the PCSD. Burton said most kids get involved with gangs between the ages of 13 and 16.
Greg Proffit, Ecker Hill International Middle School principal, said that Burton has been working with staff members at his school. Proffit said he doesn’t see gangs as the number one problem in the schools, but they want to take a proactive approach. Ecker Hill is focusing on increasing awareness about the problem and providing outreach to homes when they see it as necessary.
According to Burton, law enforcement isn’t the first line of defense against gangs; schools and families are. Since parents, teachers, and counselors interact with students on a daily basis, they are in the best position to help identify potential gang members, He said.
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Style of dress, temporary or permanent tattoos, hand signs, and drawings in a student’s notebook are the most revealing signs that authorities should monitor for potential gang involvement, Burton explained during his presentation.
He said that it’s easy for students to leave for school dressed normal, then when they get away from home, change a few elements of their wardrobe by putting on a hat, or "dressing to the right," which, according to Burton, is when an individual rolls up their right pant leg, turns their cap to the right, and/or leaves their right belt loop out.
Burton said that students often become interested in joining gangs because their needs aren’t being fulfilled at home so they’re drawn to the family atmosphere and power they imagine comes with joining a gang.
He explained that many times, when parents receive notification from schools or law enforcement that their children have been exhibiting potentially gang-related activity, the parents react with denial. This reaction doesn’t benefit the children, because then they don’t receive help.
Once somebody joins a gang, it can be very hard for him or her to leave, which is why Burton wants to influence kids before they become too involved. For this reason, his strategy to combat gang activity follows the sequence of recognition, education, prevention, enforcement, and then counseling.
Because Park is only a 20-minute drive from Salt Lake City, Burton said that, as the gang population in that city grows, it impacts the situation here as well. According to Burton, 45 percent of the gang members identified in Summit County live in Salt Lake. They travel here for work or recreation purposes. Another reason Burton cited for the influx of gang members into Summit County is that, when people who are already affiliated with a gang in another part of the country such as Southern California move to Park City, they bring their lifestyle with them.
Burton explained that Ecker Hill is the only school in the Park City School District with a resource officer on its campus. Having officer presence on campus is a deterrent to crime and can be a valuable resource for the school and police, he said. He told the school board that he would like to see the district hire another officer who could split his time between Park City High School, the Learning Center, and Treasure Mountain International School.