Commentary: The ACLU is wrong about Operation Rio Grande

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Law enforcement officers from several agencies increase their presence in the Rio Grande homeless area in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 14, 2017.

As outspoken liberals, the Caputos normally find ourselves on the same side of an issue with the ACLU. As a business owner in this neighborhood for over 20 years and a resident walking to work in this neighborhood for over a decade, I feel compelled to speak up.

The ACLU’s opposition to Operation Rio Grande is off base. While I cannot speak to whether the operation has an imbalance, something had to be done. What was transpiring here in our neighborhood was a paradigm shift from a mere nuisance to utter lawlessness.

Additionally, it was more than simply increased risk of being caught in the crossfire of the usual participants. We were becoming the targets. Our employees were assaulted physically and sexually. I myself was threatened in an insanely brazen way. While on camera for a local news segment (filmed between our deli and Pioneer Park), one of the men we came to know as a member of the cartel came up less than 15 feet behind camera and made a talking motion with his hands and throat-slitting motion to me.

The message was clear: “This is our turf now. Be careful what you say.”

Even worse than seeing everything we have worked to achieve going up in smoke was the fact that our employees and families were truly in danger. My wife also works here; my children frequent Caputo’s regularly. So while Caputo’s had stayed silent and even downplayed the severity of issues in Pioneer Park for most of our 20-year history, we had to break with this as the situation had passed a very dangerous tipping point. Any solution was better than the status quo.

As far as I know, the ACLU has not tried to talk to any business owners or employees in the area about this issue. Certainly not us. I understand its role and why it is taking this position. However, in this case it is just off base.

As an individual very immersed in this neighborhood for the past 20 years, I can say Operation Rio Grande has been a godsend to the vast majority of law-abiding citizens down here. Should we work to improve? Yes. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Matt Caputo

Matt Caputo is the CEO of Tony Caputo’s Food Market & Deli, Salt Lake City.