To combat violent crime, Salt Lake City is doing it like Dallas

The second phase of Salt Lake City’s violent crime plan, developed with Texas researchers, is now underway.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announce a new violent crime prevention plan on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. On Wednesday, officials announced that the second phase of the plan would begin

Salt Lake City is moving forward with the second phase of its violent crime plan, which will use “creative thinking” to help make violent crime hot spots safer, officials announced Wednesday.

The city’s violent crime plan was unveiled last year. Its first phase involved boosting Salt Lake City police presence in pockets of the city where data indicated crime was most likely to happen.

Now, the city is targeting those hot spots themselves, aiming to overhaul the underlying conditions that can help crime fester, such as dim lighting on walking paths, or traffic patterns that block access to cars and pedestrians — both of which can make areas less visible to witnesses.

Identifying hot spots

Salt Lake City’s violent crime plan was developed in partnership with researchers at the University of Texas San Antonio. Criminologists at the university have implemented similar plans in Dallas; San Antonio; and Tacoma, Washington.

“The data that we have gives valuable insight into crime patterns and trends,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said Wednesday.

Year-to-date, total crime is down about 15% in Salt Lake City, Mendenhall said, and violent crime is down 7%. But historically, officials said police calls generally increase over the summer and taper off during the colder months. That is why the plan’s second phase is beginning now.

This plan in particular targets “violent street crime,” including murder, robbery and non-family-violence-related aggravated assault, UTSA criminologist Michael R. Smith said.

Under its first phase, officers would sit in their patrol cars with their overhead lights on in data-identified crime hot spots for about 15 minutes during peak crime hours. The hot spots are typically about a block in size, and about 10-14 were targeted during each period of the phase.

Officials did not identify which areas of the city were considered crime hot spots, citing that revealing that information could make the plan ineffective.

Moving forward

The next phase of the plan will include all levels of city government — including 10 city departments, along with community members, Mendenhall said.

Over the past few days, the university researchers have been hosting trainings that focus on what they call “problem-oriented, place-based policing.” The strategy aims to help areas identified as crime hot spots come off that list, Smith said, and alleviate long-standing problems in places that experience high rates of violent crime.

In Dallas, where the plan has been in effect since May 2021, one of the hot spots this step focused on was an apartment complex — which Smith said was the “most violent place” in the city. One of the solutions brought to the area was an afternoon youth program.

“We have parks and recreation, we have code enforcement, we have the city attorney’s office involved — there are multiple stakeholders,” Smith said, noting violent crime has dropped substantially at the apartment complex. “It’s a multi-prong, multidisciplinary strategy that varies by place — depending on what the nature of the problems are.”

The criminologists have just started work on identifying each Salt Lake City hot spot’s contributing factors and recommending solutions.

“What we’ve been doing for a long time in the city is a fraction of what we’ve just built,” Mendenhall said Wednesday. “... This is not politically motivated in terms of having direction from council members of, ‘Please check out this area‚’ or, ‘I’m getting a lot of complaints here.’ This is 100% driven by the data.”