Anti-gang project targets supposedly quiet Cache Valley
LOGAN -- While many people view Cache Valley as a quiet and safe place to make a home, it is not immune to big-city problems. Apart from making arrests and responding to emergencies, law enforcement agencies in the valley are actively involved in something called the Logan-Cache gang project.
According to the Logan City Police Departments website, the project was established in 1994 as a cooperative effort between all the law enforcement agencies in Cache County. It works to minimize gang-related crimes in the area by prevention, intervention, intelligence gathering and suppression.
"Our project coordinator gives 80 to 110 speeches each year educating small and large groups in the community," Sgt. Eric Collins said.
There are gangs operating in this area who are strongly influenced by gangs from the Wasatch Front. In fact, according to the LCPD website, the gang culture found in Salt Lake is one of the most diverse in the western United States. Major California affiliations in the area include the Surenos, Nortenos, Crips, and Bloods. Chicago affiliations include both the Folks and the People.
Additionally, the Salt Lake metro area has Southeast Asian gangs, Polynesian gangs, racist and non-racist skinheads, motorcycle gangs, Straight Edgers, and extremist groups such as the Animal Liberation Front.
"We have over 300 documented gang members in Cache Valley," Collins said, "and about 13 different gangs."
Most gangs claim a specific geographic area, and will identify this area with scrawled graffiti. Often they sell drugs and participate in drive-by shootings and home invasions.
"The difference between the people we document as gang members and the members in Salt Lake is that we don't have the violence that the big cities have," Collins said.
Most of the gang members in the valley are males between the ages of 14-30 even though both boys and girls get involved in gangs.
"If they are actively involved in a gang, they are usually in jail or prison by an older age," Collins said.
Partnering with schools and youth probation, the project leaders try and offer safe alternatives to joining a gang. Activities such as midnight basketball clubs and youth groups get kids involved and give them an opportunity to gain some self-worth.
"There are a lot of different reasons kids choose to join gangs," Collins said. "At first it is a respect thing. There is an intimidation factor involved in being known as a gang member by your peers. What they interpret as intimidation or respect, though, is actually fear."
The real reason people join gangs has more to do with low self-esteem, and many kids lack a sense of belonging. While there are more single-parent homes, kids are left to raise themselves and make choices without intervention.
"I think it all starts in the home," Collins said. "The breakdown of the family structure is more to blame than any rap music or peer pressure."
The gang problem has escalated in Cache Valley in the last five years. In part, parents move here to get their kids out of a bigger city where they may have already been part of a gang.
"If parents become educated and recognize the problem early on, they can talk to their kids," Collins said.
The leaders of the Logan-Cache gang project work to educate community members and parents about warning signs and on what to do if they know someone who is already a part of a gang.
"Gangs like to make people think that once they are in, they can't get out," Collins said. "But if kids change their circle of friends and their value system, they can get out."