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Man talks about life as a gang unit detective in Salt Lake Valley

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Posted at 10:58 PM, Nov 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-03 00:58:31-05

SALT LAKE CITY – The gang landscape in Salt Lake City is always changing. One of the newer gangs to move in, The Rose Park Taliban, remains relatively unknown to most in the community, but is already rivaling some of the city’s bigger gangs.

“When we had Iraqi refugees show up that were displaced from the war, a lot of the younger generations came together and started calling themselves that,” explained Det. Zach Van Emmerik from the Metro Gang Unit.

Van Emmerik has been with Unified Police Department’s Metro Gang Unit for the past three years. The Gang Unit is in charge of finding and suppressing gang activity in the Salt Lake Valley.

Van Emmerik said another gang, called the Iraqi Mafia, rivals the Rose Park Taliban and is run by only a few major families.

“I wouldn’t say they are as big as the Surenos,” Van Emmerik said.

The Surenos and Nortenos originate from northern and Southern California, and are currently the top two gangs in the Salt Lake Valley, in terms of volume.

Van Emmerik and members of the Metro Gang Unit team up with U.S. Marshals, FBI agents, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to patrol the streets of Salt Lake Valley, looking for fugitives.

“I start my night by running license plates,” Van Emmerik explained.  “I’m looking for something that at the end of the day, will make my hair stand up.”

Van Emmerik’s team spends most of the night attempting to find and catch Salt Lake City’s Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, a list which the Unified Police Department compiles.

"Your stress level is up -- always got to be on your guard,” Van Emmerik said.

Riding with the detective in late October, FOX 13 News’ Jeff McAdam learned that lesson first hand.

After picking up a Top Ten Most Wanted fugitive in Kearns, a call came across police radio that local gang members were firing at West Valley City police officers. Later, police would find Danial Movahhed, and Cortez Quarles held up in a West Valley City hotel.

Evidence from the scene would eventually link Marco Ray Etsitty, former public enemy number one.

“You never know what you’ll get when you respond to these calls,” Van Emmerik points out.

He would be one of the first ones into the hotel, and one of the first ones to make the arrests.

On a given night, the Metro Gang Unit can bring in multiple Top Ten Fugitives.

“When I get home, I strip off my uniform” Van Emmerik said. “When I lay down at night, I just take a deep breath.  It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulder.”​