This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In the next several weeks, Salt Lake County and City will be providing more specifics on solutions to the problems in the Rio Grande area. Many of the problems are caused by the visible drug dealing that attracts criminal elements. The homeless in the area are blamed for the situation but they also want a safer area without drugs and crime. The Salt Lake County jail houses about 300 homeless on an average day. A significant percentage of the homeless cycle in and out of jail. Mayor McAdams is proposing to decrease the homeless in jail but many homeless deal drugs to help feed their drug habits and the jail won't usually keep them locked up for more than a few hours.
The police are frustrated when they spend several hours arresting a dealer, only to have them standing next to them four hours later laughing at the powerlessness of the police. It is not just in the Rio Grande area that drugs are a big problem. At the low cost motels on North Temple and State Street (and other areas), neighbors complain about the crime and obvious drug dealing. The drug problems are so bad that in one case, an illegal alien was arrested for drug dealing and deported four times but he keeps coming back! These are the real threats to society. The spice (K2) that they are selling create a neighborhood of zombie like people who are unable to be reasoned with and could attack anyone without any reason. Fentanyl is now being added to the heroin that is cheaply sold by the dealers. Police say that to kick a Fentanyl habit is much harder than heroin if not impossible. The police have caught hospital patients in gowns that are trying to buy drugs in the Rio Grande area! Needles are everywhere! That results in many more desperate drug addicts who do not care for anyone else's safety. That is the real public safety issue.
Unfortunately, the homeless committees that will provide solutions (and two SLC expansion sites next month) seem to be ignoring the most important issue, neighborhood safety first! If the drug dealers are not going to be kept locked up, no neighborhood will accept homeless expansion facilities. It also seems obvious that the quickest way to decrease crime and related problems in the Rio Grande area is to lock up the real criminal element and drug dealers for more than a few hours. That would require providing more beds in the Salt Lake County Jail. The cost to continually arrest drug dealers and take them to jail for a few hours is many times more than the cost to keep them in jail for an extended period of time. Salt Lake County jail has about 2200 beds and the County spends over $76 million to operate the jail (plus support services).
Although many say that we can't arrest our way out of this problem, drug dealers should be in jail! Drug addicts should get drug abuse treatment but the success rates are abysmal, if the treatment is even available. Without healthcare expansion, drug addicts will continue to create a problem for society. Salt Lake City intends to spend more than $5 million on the Rio Grande Depot district in the next few years. But without getting the criminal element out of the area, it seems to be a misguided and wasteful plan. Many agree that the homeless that have not been convicted of any crime or not considered a risk to the community should not be in jail. But when the homeless sell drugs, or steal or shoplift regularly, they should be in jail! These are not victimless crimes!
Everyone involved in the homeless solutions discussion should agree that neighborhood safety should be the number one priority. Until that is acknowledged, and the jails are expanded to hold the criminal element, homeless solutions will not be successful.
George Chapman is a former candidate for mayor of Salt Lake City.