New Ballpark police substation will help curb crime, officials say. Some residents remain skeptical.

One business owner asked officials: “If this a place to microwave lunches and [let] police officers relax, how does that solve crime?”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown speaks during a news conference announcing the opening of a police substation at Smith's Ballpark, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

A new police substation opened inside Smith’s Ballpark on Thursday, offering officers patrolling the area a closer space to take breaks, recharge equipment and eat lunch — and a more constant police presence in the Ballpark neighborhood that city officials hope will help reduce crime.

The announcement comes after years of resident and business owner complaints about lawlessness in the neighborhood, which roughly spans the area between 900 South and 2100 South and between Interstate 15 and State Street.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall was flanked Thursday morning by Police Chief Mike Brown; Salt Lake City Council member Darin Marino, who represents the Ballpark neighborhood; and Salt Lake Bees president and general manager Marc Amicone as the new substation was unveiled. Mendenhall said it would help deter crime because officers will be around to respond more quickly to — and better understand — the issues the community faces.

“It’s a public safety hub for our neighborhood,” she said, “where officers can work, where they can have a closer finger on the pulse of what’s happening in this community and a way to make a closer day-to-day connection with the community.”

Just before the 8 a.m. announcement, a crew stuck the first piece of Salt Lake City Police Department signage on a glass door on the substation entrance, near the northwest corner of the ballpark, as officers pulled two motorcycles up to a lectern to use as a backdrop for the news conference. SLCPD spokesperson Detective Michael Ruff said Thursday that the site was already operational.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks during a news conference announcing the opening of a police substation at Smith's Ballpark, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

Without this substation, Mendenhall said officers would need to trek approximately 2 miles back to the downtown Public Safety Building for breaks during shifts.

This is the first of “several” police substations that will pop up throughout the city in the near-future, Brown said. He said officials have been looking for a space to house the Ballpark substation for about a year before settling on the stadium that’s home to the Salt Lake Bees Triple-A baseball team.

Mendenhall said the substation is a step toward realizing a longterm vision for the neighborhood to become a destination within the city by adding better pedestrian and and bike infrastructure, as well as parks and a library, and designating a street to host intermittent outdoor festivals.

“It’s more than just public safety,” she said. “It’s about creating, hopefully, a festival street right here on West Temple, developing blocks that the city owns right now that are currently parking lots or empty and working strategically ... so that our friends at Lucky 13, and the Bees right here, aren’t the only draw in the neighborhood.”

‘How does that solve crime?’

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ballpark neighborhood residents and business owners listen to a Salt Lake City Police news conference announcing the opening of a police substation at Smith's Ballpark, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.

For decades, the State Street corridor has had a reputation for drug crime and prostitution, and more recently residents and business owners have been speaking out against the crimes they see frequently and what they perceive as a lack of accountability for repeat, dangerous offenders.

Police data shows that crime in general is down in District 5, the city council district that encompasses the Ballpark neighborhood, compared to this time last year. Violent crime, however, is up.

Last month, after police responded to a “chaotic” shooting that spanned multiple blocks, Brown told residents police were prioritizing patrols in Ballpark and that “the people living, working and visiting this neighborhood deserve to feel safe.”

Between 2016 and 2020, there was an average of three homicides per year in the neighborhood. Police reported seven in 2020 and five in 2021.

Toward the end of the news conference, business owner Bob Danielson interrupted to ask his own question: “I just want to know if this a place to microwave lunches and police officers relax, how does that solve crime?”

Danielson owns Alpha Munitions, a bullet-parts store on Paramount Avenue adjacent to the Gail R. Miller Homeless Resource Center. He and others on that street have raised concerns for years that they are inundated with crime and that city officials haven’t responded appropriately to open drug misuse, prostitution and other issues near the resource center.

Resource center officials have acknowledged crime around the shelter but say they have protocols in place to address those issues — and that the city would be worse off if people experiencing homelessness had nowhere to go.

In response to Danielson’s question, Mendenhall said all employees are entitled to breaks.

“And where they go to do those things ... it’s taking away from their time that they could be patrolling in the neighborhood,” she said. “So I think it makes a lot of sense that if you’re going to try to put your officers in a more concentrated area, that you locate the resources they need throughout their day in the place you want them to be.”

Danielson said later that he understands officers need breaks, but he doesn’t think a closer space to do that will have an impact on the crime he sees daily.

“To the citizens of this community, I think what this looks like is just nothing more than a sign on a door,” he said.

Amy J. Hawkins, Ballpark Community Council chair, said she thought the substation could be “a good first, positive step” but she wanted to wait and see what happens. She noted police opened (and later closed) a substation on North Temple in 2018 to address crime in the area, following the state’s crackdown on homelessness via Operation Rio Grande.