George Chapman: Salt Lake City needs a bigger police budget

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A group of neighbors in the Ballpark neighborhood are concerned about the impact of boarded properties on crime in the community. City documents show there are more abandoned buildings in Salt Lake City's District 5 than in any other neighborhood, with 34 total. Some 22 of the 34 boarded buildings in District 5 are located in the Ballpark neighborhood with three recently being demolished. Pictured on Wed. Sept. 11, 2019, is 1159 South West Temple.

A recent killing in the Ballpark neighborhood is one of several in the last year that has added to the community’s frustration with the lack of solutions for the increase in crime.

The area has been known for years as a crime hot spot for drug traffic and prostitution. The Utah Transit Authority removed their bus stop at 1300 South and State due to the criminal activity. But Operation Rio Grande, called Operation Leaf Blower by the county’s police chiefs, disbursed the homeless that were involved in drugs and crime.

Many have gravitated to the Ballpark neighborhood of 1300 South around West Temple and nearby Jefferson Park. The result is a significant increase in complaints from residents and businesses about criminal activities and drug sales and use, even at school bus stops. Even the City’s Public Utilities office was just broken into.

This is happening citywide. North Temple is also a crime hotspot. It is called North Track by the police and State Street is called South Track. Even the Pioneer Park area is receiving an increase in criminal behavior and damage. The city’s areas that are experiencing the increase in crime have had many recent meetings asking for more police patrols and especially walking patrols to discourage criminal behavior.

Residents and businesses in the high-crime areas are frustrated with a lack of police response and effectiveness. After the first few calls, many stop reporting any crime even when there is a lot more of it. Much of perception of fewer visible cops has been due to the Police Department spending all of their overtime on protests (and losing over 20 officers in the last two months). It is so bad that the police park ranger program, which was supposed to start next month, is unable to have officers accept more overtime, although the bike patrol was restored earlier this month.

Many complaints about homeless include biowaste of human feces, urine and needles on sidewalks, in parks and in private yards. The city has discussed adding more funding to Advantage Services which has a contract to clean up biowaste (for $80) and the city is offering to pay $40 of that for cleanup of biowaste on private property.

To reduce the biowaste, the city has installed a portable toilet in the Smith’s Ballfield parking lot. Before it was installed, the Utah Highway Patrol and others that saw the misuse and problems with the portable units in the Rio Grande area, warned that they could attract problems. The predictions were correct. There is an increase in homeless in the area and, as usual, criminals, especially drug dealers, have embedded themselves in the population.

Ironically, the city continues to lock the restrooms in parks so the result is that the homeless population is increasing near the Ballpark toilets. The community has noticed an increase in biowaste in private yards and alleyways (where the latest killing in the neighborhood took place).

In a sad commentary on our priorities, the 7-Eleven near the Horizonte School parking lot has become the place to hangout for the homeless and drug dealers. Businesses and residents walking near the homeless shelters are regularly threatened. Police efforts are limited due to lack of funding for the district attorney, county jail, state prison and mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Visible police are the best deterrent to crime. Lighting and cameras can help, but there is no substitute for a visible police officer. Police walking patrols would allow community policing that isn't meant to harass or intimidate but to ensure that everyone in the area knows that criminal actions will be addressed and not ignored. In other words, it stops criminals from thinking that they can get away with it. It discourages crime.

To keep the officers we have requires higher salaries. To recruit more minority officers requires more funding. To require bodycams and video storage requires more funding. To thoroughly review complaints about police requires more funding. The city deserves to have more visible police walking patrols. All that requires more SLCPD budget.

George Chapman

George Chapman is a former candidate for mayor and writes a blog at georgechapman.net.

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