Salt Lake City police want more cash to enforce crackdown on homeless camps

Police have made dozens of felony arrests and written more than 150 tickets.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the Salt Lake City Police Department stand by as people camping along 500 West pack up their belongings before the city's Rapid Intervention Team moves in to clean the area, Feb. 2, 2023. Police want more funding to enforce a clampdown on illegal camps.

If Salt Lake City wants to continue its enforcement blitz against illegal homeless camps, police say they’ll need some extra dough to make it happen.

Salt Lake City Police Department officials are asking the City Council to chip in another $1.8 million to cover overtime associated with a bolstered focus on busting up camps in Utah’s capital.

Police Chief Mike Brown issued the order for additional enforcement last fall as hundreds of winter overflow shelter beds started coming on line.

After Brown issued the order, the department relied on paying for overtime from the city’s general fund and a pot of federal COVID-19 relief money.

“Due to the sheer volume of calls for service and current staffing levels,” city staffers wrote to the council, “the department does not have the available resources that can be dedicated for mitigation services without the use of overtime.”

The department currently uses two full-time sergeants to manage overtime officers who focus on breaking up camps.

Overtime officers, the city said, are primarily assigned to work around the temporary sanctioned camp the city helped open at 300 South and 600 West but may assist in targeting camps elsewhere. These forces also are frequently called in by the Salt Lake County Health Department, the city said, to help with larger sweeps of illegal camps.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City’s first legal homeless camp on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

Enforcement of the camping prohibition, police say, relies on shelter availability. If shelters are full, enforcement eases.

“If there is no shelter space available, officers shall not issue a citation or make a custodial arrest for camping on public property,” the chief’s order states. “Regardless of shelter bed availability, officers should continue to cite and make custodial arrest for warrants and other violations of the law.”

Since mid-October, a department spokesperson said, police have made 60 felony arrests and written 152 misdemeanor citations as part of the crackdown.

According to the chief’s order, laws that may be enforced in addition to the camping ban include, among others, littering, disturbing the peace, open container, urinating or defecating in public, spitting in public, destruction of property, using streets for storage, obstructing traffic on a sidewalk, violating park curfew, reckless burning, drug use and paraphernalia, interference with a peace officer, unauthorized possession of property and identity fraud.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall has insisted her preference is for homeless Utahns to accept services and shelter.

A public hearing for the police’s budget request is expected on Feb. 20. It’s unclear when the council is expected to cast a final vote.

In the future, the department wants to hire more officers to continue camping enforcement and oversee the area of the state-proposed permanent legal homeless camp, slated for a chunk of land near 700 West under the 500 South freeway ramps.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The site of a possible legal homeless camp near Interstate 15 on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023.