Tribune Editorial: Crime is down in Salt Lake City. Police know there’s still more work to be done.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown sat down with The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board to discuss the city’s recent successes in bringing down the overall crime rate. And while he has good things to report — a trend we are happy to see — he said candidly, “If you’re the victim of a crime, the crime rate is up 100%.”

The chief is glad that the city’s most recent report shows crime is down 16% this year compared to the same period last year, but he is not satisfied.

He said there are several factors driving this positive change:

The city has more officers on the street and those officers are responding to serious calls more quickly. In June, the average response time on serious calls dipped below 10 minutes, though it rose a bit in July. That’s still not good enough, but better than a year ago and moving in the right direction.

The city hired those officers and achieved this metric by raising police salaries high enough that SLCPD jobs now pay more than surrounding localities. The city also implemented mandatory overtime to address increased calls for service seen during spring and summer months.

The chief and Mayor Erin Mendenhall (who also joined the meeting), pointed to the good things going on in the city, as public officials are wont to do. And there are some successes for them, and the rest of us, to be happy about.

Mendenhall and the City Council may personify the blue city in the otherwise deep red state of Utah. But, for them, the chant of “defund the police” was never really a thing. Instead, the city has properly taken a more holistic approach to public safety.

The mayor said she hopes the pay raises will keep officers in Salt Lake City. Prior to the raises, Salt Lake City had been suffering from a situation where it spent money to hire and train new police officers, only to see them leave for other departments where the pay was better, and the strain is less. With higher pay, the officials said, not only is there less of that turnover, but the city is also now able to attract veteran officers, giving the capital city the ability to put new officers on the street much more quickly than it can with rookie hires.

Another part of the overall policing strategy is to place more people on the street who aren’t cops. That’s the point of more social workers and other outreach personnel who have been added to the department. These are people who can respond to nonviolent situations — everything from directing traffic after a sporting event to handling someone going through a mental health crisis — situations where an armed, trained police officer is not only not the best answer to a situation, but where the officer would be better spending his or her time policing. Brown said he’d be pleased to see more hires like these and that the rank-and-file officers agree.

Salt Lake City is a large and rapidly growing city and crime is real. There are illegal weapons on the streets, and much crime seems to recur in troubled pockets of the city, leaving law-abiding citizens fearing for their personal safety and the state of their property.

The city is certainly being creative: they are drawing on research done at the University of Texas San Antonio to try things that have been proven to work in other locales. One tactic, positioning a police cruiser at a street corner with a statistically significant increase in crime, and having it sit there for 15 minutes or so with the overhead lights rolling, appears to be working.

The department is also doubling down on community policing, outreach and other data-driven practices. And while there are certainly successes that should be applauded, anecdotally, many city dwellers say they don’t feel as safe as they used to.

For years now, the tendency of politicians and the more superficial parts of the news media has been to stress violent crime as a problem, resulting in public opinion surveys where people think that crime is up, locally and nationally, even when, mostly, it isn’t.

To a degree, the feeling of safety for folks in neighborhoods such as downtown and the Liberty Park area rises and falls with the number of homeless people who are obvious there, sometimes in ever-expanding encampments. Even if crime is down, those parts of town can still feel scary.

The solution, though, is only partly a law enforcement one. More affordable housing, more services for the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems are the key there, things that even the best-run and best-funded police department won’t provide.

To be homeless, after all, is not a crime.

There is still crime in Salt Lake City and it is worth praising both the police chief and mayor for acknowledging that there is still much work to do to make its streets and neighborhoods be, and feel, as safe as they deserve to be.

It will take more money, more work, more innovation, more outreach and more citizens convinced to do their part by being shown that the police are on their side. The road ahead may be long, but seeing progress is a very good start.

Correction, Aug. 7, 10 a.m. • This story has been updated to clarify that Salt Lake City Police implemented mandatory overtime to address increased calls for service seen during spring and summer months.