Gang unit patrols hip-hop show
In an unusual show of force on Main Street, lawmen on Saturday night patrolled a stretch of the street outside Harry O’s wearing gang-unit shirts as hip-hop star LL Cool J performed inside, an indicator of the authorities’ expanding war on gangs.
Lawmen frequently descend on Main Street during busy nights but the Saturday operation was not typical in that some of the officers wore the shirts identifying them as members of a gang unit.
Those involved with the Saturday operation say that the lawmen were assigned to the concert to discourage gang members from causing problems during the packed performance, which also attracted lots of people milling about outside without tickets.
Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds and Park City Police Department Lt. Phil Kirk say that the hip-hop culture is known for attracting gangs, prompting the deployment on Saturday night.
"That type of music tends to, sometimes, attract gang members," Kirk says. "I think it’s pretty common knowledge."
He says that the Police Department, as it was planning for Saturday night, requested that a task force of Wasatch Back law-enforcement agencies send its gang unit to Park City for the concert.
"We’re not trying to scare people off . . . but we want to deter people who might cause problems or become violent," he says.
Kirk reports that there were not gang-related complaints at the concert.
Edmunds agrees that there was the potential of gang violence at the concert, however, saying that, "that style of music promotes violence (is) well-established."
"They are known to be places where gang violence is perpetrated," the sheriff says.
He, like Kirk, says that the police presence at the concert may have prevented an incident. Edmunds says that the lawmen wore the special T-shirts as a means to intimidate gang members if they were at the concert.
"Rap concerts are places violence is very likely to occur," the sheriff says, adding, "These rival factions will meet up at the rap concert and inevitably engage in violence."
Edmunds says, in Park City and Summit County, gangs are a "relatively minor problem that could easily explode into a major problem."
The local lawmen, working with gang task forces in the Wasatch Back and the Wasatch Front, have stepped up their efforts to combat gangs operating locally. They have said that gangs have been migrating from California to the Salt Lake Valley. Some have then started operating in the Park City area, the lawmen say.
Earlier in 2006, the Police Department made a series of arrests of people who the authorities say have connections to gangs and blamed a stabbing on a suspected gang member. The police said that members of a gang known as the ‘Nortenos’ had arrived in the area.
The authorities claim that a 2003 fatal shooting at Suede, a Kimball Junction nightclub, involved gangs.
Lawmen have said that Park City’s booming economy is a draw for gang members, who can find work in the area. Once they move to Park City, they then tell other gang members to follow, the authorities have said.
The gang unit’s interest in the LL Cool J concert, though, does not appear related to the earlier arrests.
Kirk says that a similar gang unit had previously been assigned to hip-hop concerts during the 2006 Sundance Film Festival in January.
Kenny Griswold, the co-owner of Harry O’s, who attended the Saturday concert, says there were not problems.
"Anytime there is a large crowd of people, in other cities, it might be a little risky. In Park City, it’s not. It’s tame," Griswold says, adding, "All the energy was very good energy."
Griswold says the crowd Saturday night was diverse, including people from teen-agers to those who are forty-somethings. He says that LL Cool J, in recent years, has mellowed as a hip-hop artist, meaning that he is popular with a wider audience.
"LL Cool J, if you follow his music, maybe 10 years ago was more cutting edge," Griswold says. "He’s not that dangerous."
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