Utah gang prevention services aim to help youth stay busy

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) - Gang crime is on the rise in Utah, and investigators say they're in our high schools and even our elementary schools.

Damian Trujillo is the co-owner of Inspiro Recovery. But growing up, Trujillo didn’t have such aspirations. 

“From a young age, I wanna say 13, I started getting in some trouble with the law, becoming super attracted to the gang lifestyle,” says Trujillo. 

Trujillo says his young initiation into the gang life is actually quite common. He left gang life a long time ago when he decided to get sober and turn his life around. However, according to police officials the gang issue in Utah is getting worse

The data for 2017 gang related incidents is not yet fully compiled, but according to the Salt Lake Area Gang Project, there were more gang related incidents in the Salt Lake Valley in 2017 than in 2016. In 2016, there were more than 1,600 gang related crimes. 

Experts say there are a number of reasons why young people join gangs, but many of the largest factors are socio-economic. 

“One of the biggest risk factors that we find is this lack of sense of belonging,” says Moises Prospero. Prospero founded iCHAMPS, a crime prevention organization based in Salt Lake City. 
Their aim is to foster fun and healthy relationships between youth and police officers

“For example we bring together teams that are made up of a police officer and a youth worker that engage students in PE. What the police officer does there, though, is not as a law enforcer...they're focused on building relationships with the kids,” explains Prospero. 

Prospero says the youth worker is there to teach social-emotional learning skills like impulse control, responsible decision making, and self awareness. 

Experts say the most important thing is keeping kids busy and fostering a sense of community. 

Kris Murphy is the program director of Choose Gang Free, a multi-faceted program that focuses on gang prevention and intervention. 

“We have a lot of kids with a lot of free time that isn't being monitored,” says Murphy, “Those kids have needs that are not being met, and they're out there without any direction, and they're looking for a solution to their problems.” 

Choose Gang Free works in schools with a curriculum designed for 5th and 6th graders. 

If someone wishes to leave a gang, they help them do that with their intervention services. If you or someone you know needs help, you can call 385-468-9973 or visit this website. If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1. 

The experts we spoke with emphasized that a comprehensive approach to gang prevention is vital in our communities. Visit these links for more information on gang prevention, intervention, and free programs to keep our youth busy.

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