Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne presented SB175 last week to the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee. The bill would create an annual Utah Gang Awareness Week the third week of September.
The purpose is to both honor those officers whom she calls “soldiers of the streets,” dedicated to seeking out gang members in an effort to rescue them from gang life, and to promote the efforts surrounding rehabilitation of gang members and the prevention of youth entering gang life.
“These officers need to be celebrated for their efforts to help cut the often-generational gang life cycle,” said Senator Mayne. “They’re helping young men and women escape gang life, bringing them together for activities such as team sports, support classes and social gatherings.”
She heard from a Unified Police Department (UPD) contact about the National Alliance of Gang Investigators holding the first International Gang Awareness Day on Sept. 17. 2018, and his request for a similar event in Utah.
At the committee hearing, Detective Esekia “Skee” Afatasi, UPD officer and board member of the Utah Gang Investigators Association, said “This is an issue that’s going to take a collaborative effort, it’s not a new issue. If we can come together across the state, law enforcement and communities can provide positive role models and bring change to the lives of youth.”
Andrea Atencio-Valdez, program manager of the Choose Gang Free program for UPD, helps advocate for kids at risk of gang involvement, including coordinating gang awareness nights the past three years.
“We help kids by showing them alternatives in life, educating them on how to deal with different situations and how to better their lives in general,” she said.
Gang Awareness Week in Utah would be a coordinated effort between all of the police gang units in Utah. Youth participants from the various programs could travel to attend events together, such as participating in sports tournaments or visiting new areas of the state.
Nicole Cottle, West Valley City assistant city manager, said, “We want to express our great appreciation to Senator Mayne for her continuing to bring gang prevention and awareness to the forefront every year. As a community she represents, that is vital to us. We’ve become experts in this arena, as I’m sure you’re aware, and continuing to talk about it and make strides to protect our citizenry from that is important. Senator Mayne has been tireless in that. We sure appreciate her and appreciate this effort from the senate.”
The bill passed unanimously out of committee and is waiting to be heard on the Senate floor.
Another bill, SB217 Gang Prevention Funding Amendments, allocates 4% of the Enhancement for At-Risk Students Program (originally initiated by Sen. Mayne) to fund a gang prevention and intervention program to help students at risk for gang involvement stay in school.