Salt Lake City police aim to slash violent offenses in Utah’s capital by flooding crime-prone areas with additional patrols.
The strategy is the first step of a new three-pronged approach to reduce violence and fits into a larger plan launched by the department in early 2021 and updated this month.
“We’re very excited about how promising this strategy is already showing to be,” Mayor Erin Mendenhall told reporters Monday at a news conference unveiling the effort.
Officials said most violent crime occurs in a few pockets of the city and is committed by a handful of criminals.
In June, police leaders in each of the city’s three patrol zones were tasked with driving down crime in a specific area. By boosting the number of officers in those areas, police said they have been able to sharply reduce violent crime.
Officers in the department’s Pioneer Patrol Division focused on the area between 200 North and South Temple from 700 West to 1000 West. Violent crime in August was down 33% in this region from August 2021.
In the Central Patrol Division, police targeted swaths between 200 South and 400 South from 200 West to State Street. Violent crime there was down 28% in August compared with August 2021.
And, in the Liberty Patrol Division, police zeroed in on 1300 South to 1500 South and 200 West to State Street. Crime in that zone was down 71% in August compared with August 2021.
Last month, officers started concentrating on even smaller areas within the three focus zones in an effort to deter crime. The department declined to specify these locations.
Chief Mike Brown called the approach the most strategic, selective plan he has seen in his three decades of policing.
He said blitzing small areas with additional officers is more progressive than the “broken windows” policing approach that the Pioneer Park Coalition promoted last week in its new push to fight homelessness.
The coalition argues that targeting low-level offenses will prevent more serious crimes. Brown said his department’s new tack aims to stop crime before it happens.
“If you can prevent it,” Brown said, “you don’t have a broken window.”
Police plan to look at progress in those hotspots every 60 to 90 days and, if they have managed to thwart crime in the targeted areas, they will look for another problem area.
Patrolling hot spots marks a short-term strategy, the first step toward further reducing crime, Deputy Chief Scott Mourtgos said.
The department’s medium-term strategy calls for studying the characteristics that make some areas prone to crime. Officials will look for potential solutions such as adding more streetlights or making other environmental design changes.
“You try to address those underlying issues in a problem-solving approach,” Mourtgos said, “and hopefully have a long-term effect on that area where it no longer is conducive to violent crime.”
The department’s long-term strategy involves trying to change the behavior of criminals by offering resources such as job placement, drug treatment and other social services.
If they don’t choose a path to productivity, Mourtgos said, then they can face jail time.
“Having that choice available,” he said, “is what makes this such an effective strategy.”
Mendenhall said the long-term approach to lowering crime will require help from Salt Lake County and the state to make resources available.
As of Oct. 2, violent crime citywide was down 4.5% year to date, according to police data. Overall crime across the city fell by 9.4%.