More than 100 arrests resulting in gangsters behind bars. Illegal firearms taken off the street. An increased number of gang members being documented by police.
Those are the early results of efforts by a newly formed task force aimed at combatting gangs across the Salt Lake Valley, officials connected to the Valley Police Alliance Safe Streets Task Force announced on Thursday.
The task force, a collaboration of 36 local, state and federal officers documented their progress with statistics gathered from January to April. In that time period, gang officers made 158 arrests, responded to nearly 225 gang-related calls and investigated approximately 350 gang cases.
Task force officers seized 11 weapons, including six firearms. They completed 217 "field cards," a process police use to document suspected gang members and affiliates to share with other authorities.
In its first few months in existence, the task force has had promising progress, said James McTighe, special agent in charge of the FBI's Salt Lake City field office.
"I'm pleased this partnership has expanded so extensively. I look forward to its continued success," he said during a news conference at the Sandy Police Department.
The FBI has had a Safe Streets task force for years, but local and federal agencies this fall joined the FBI's efforts to crack down on gangs in an expanded initiative. Several agencies left Salt Lake County's 21-year-old Metro Gang Unit in favor of the FBI task force.
Among the agencies to make the switch was Salt Lake City. West Jordan, Sandy, West Valley City, Midvale, South Jordan, Draper and the Summit County Sheriff's Office also participate on the FBI task force, in addition to the Utah Department of Public Safety, Utah Department of Corrections, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said in October, at the time the department joined the FBI task force, that the new initiative will put the focus on prosecuting not only the gangsters who shoot, beat and rob, but gang leaders and associates who benefit from gang crime.
On Thursday, Burbank said he is happy with the direction the task force is taking, particularly at a time when gangs are growing more sophisticated in their criminal endeavors. Access to more federal resources, including investigators, leads to a better chance of curbing gang crime, Burbank said.
With federal agents involved, there is a better chance a charge, such as an illegal firearms case, will be prosecuted in federal court where convictions for such cases often result in a harsher penalty, than when a case lands in a local jurisdiction, said U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen.
Officers assigned to the task force take part in street-level intelligence gathering and share that information with the FBI so the agency can pursue federal charges against gangsters, such as racketeering. While state laws permit criminal charges against only someone who perpetrated a crime, federal laws allow for criminal charges against people who did not actually participate in frauds, extortions or violence but who approved or aided such acts.