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SLC's mayor and police chief promise results after a spate of violence

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Salt Lake City Mayor Mendenhall, joined by SLCPD Chief Mike Brown and members of the City Council, speaks to the media at Pioneer Park. - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • Salt Lake City Mayor Mendenhall, joined by SLCPD Chief Mike Brown and members of the City Council, speaks to the media at Pioneer Park.

Days after a pair of shootings critically injured three Salt Lake City residents and video circulated of apparent drug and sexual crimes occurring in broad daylight at Pioneer Park, the city's mayor and police chief pledged to do more to keep people safe.

Speaking to members of the press on Tuesday, Mayor Erin Mendenhall said that while strides have been made and overall crime rates are trending downward, the public's perception of security and the occurring trauma to victims and their families are not acceptable.

"Salt Lake City isn't the small town that a lot of us grew up knowing it to be," Mendenhall said. "Our public safety challenges are continuing alongside our growing population and downtown economy."

Mendenhall lauded the city government for its recent increase to police salaries, which has aided the police department in filling dozens of open positions through the recruitment of new officers as well as re-employing several former Salt Lake City officers who had left the department to work elsewhere.

She said her administration is committed to ensuring that SLCPD has the resources it needs to do the work of keeping neighborhoods safe.

"Clearly a stronger deterrent is necessary to prevent such crimes," Mendenhall said, referring specifically to the Pioneer Park video. "Our goal is to continue to send a clear message that crime is not welcome in Salt Lake City. We're going to act swiftly and strategically to prevent it, and to make sure prosecution can happen."

The Pioneer Park area has long been plagued by unlawful activity. Among the oldest public spaces in Utah, the park's proximity to Interstate 15 and the city's industrial zones and homeless resource centers have made it a magnet for both violent and nonviolent crimes, perpetuating cycles of law enforcement initiatives and redevelopment efforts.

SLCPD Chief Mike Brown said the footage of sex acts in Pioneer Park was "disgusting," and that within an hour of the video circulating, the department had shifted its officers to increase the police presence in the area.

"That is criminal behavior and it has no place in our community," he said, "especially at a park."

Brown described the city's crime statistics, saying overall crime was up 2.9% compared to the city's 5-year average, but that 2021 so far has seen month-to-month decreases. He also said District 1—which includes westside communities like Fairpark, Rose Park and Westpointe—has seen a "noticeable increase" in property crime, and expressed alarm at a citywide spike in violence between family members.

"We are seeing more and more aggravated assaults among family members across the city," he said, "I strongly encourage anyone who is dealing with family violence to reach out for help."

Brown said that two suspects had been arrested in connection with a west side drive-by-shooting on Sept. 4, in which two teens were seriously injured. And at press time, no arrests had been made in relation to a Sept. 6 crime—also on the west side—in which a man was shot multiple times while sitting on his porch.

"What we saw this weekend is not reflective of our city, and certainly will not reflect the future of our city," Brown said. "I also want to make a plea to our community, especially to our younger generations—it is time to put down your guns. Too many lives are being impacted in our city because of firearms."

Brown said the department's staff is 56 positions short while at the same time, calls for police services increased 20% in the last week of August, meaning fewer officers able to respond to hundreds of additional requests from the community.

The department has also come under fire after record numbers of police-involved shootings in the county as well as several disputed killings of private citizens by city police officers in recent years, including the 2020 death of a boy with autism that prompted new sensitivity training.

Brown emphasized that the department is committed to "victim-centered, trauma-informed services" and stressed the ongoing efforts of law enforcement personnel to regularly meet with community groups outside of, and in addition to, street patrols.

"We will not let crime and criminal activity go unchecked," he said. "To those that say there is lawlessness in Salt Lake City, you are wrong. Our police officers are out every day building relationships, responding to crime and making arrests."

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Benjamin Wood

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