S.L. County sheriff says huge effort likely won't have a lasting effect
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When two people were stabbed - one fatally - in Salt Lake City's Pioneer Park in mid-October, area residents and business owners pleaded with police to clamp down on violence and drug activity at the park.
Though Salt Lake City police seemed to answer that call - arresting 658 people in a 49-block sting between Nov. 5 and 10 - police and Salt Lake County sheriff's officials said all the work probably won't put a big dent in the park's longtime problem with crime.
The arrests included those now facing felony and misdemeanor drug charges, while others were picked up on outstanding warrants. Police also apprehended 68 undocu- mented immigrants with criminal warrants who are now in the custody of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and will likely be deported, police said.
Though Salt Lake County Sheriff James Winder called the recent police operation "Herculean," he has grown frustrated that thousands of work-hours and taxpayer dollars spent likely won't have a lasting effect.
"I am personally very frustrated with our ability to actually impact this operation . . . that, quite frankly, will have limited impact because of our inability to house these people for any duration of time," said Winder, who earlier this week lost a battle with the Salt Lake County Council for funding toward additional jail space at the county's Oxbow jail.
"Granted, jail is not the only answer, but sometimes it's the necessary answer to help combat this kind of activity," he said.
Undercover police officers purchased drugs from small-time dealers in a 49-block area from State Street to 600 West and North Temple to 600 South. As dealers were taken off the street, the officers took their places and focused on buyers.
Of those arrested, 87 were charged with distributing a controlled substance and 165 on drug-solicitation charges.
Discouraging to law enforcement officials is that nearly 71 percent of those arrested have lived in the state fewer than four years.
"Unfortunately, we have a reputation right now that you don't stay in jail very long - that there is no consequence for your actions here in Salt Lake," said Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank.
Winder said in some instances, the county has been unable to hold offenders long enough for warrants to be processed.
"If we cannot adequately adjudicate these cases, the people leave our facility, come back here and impact this city. That is unfair," Winder said.
City and county prosecutors called on local and state lawmakers to work together to develop policies designed to punish and treat drug offenders to keep them from reoffending.
Salt Lake City prosecutor Sim Gill said officials can neither arrest nor prosecute their way out of the problem.
City officials have long wrangled over whether to place surveillance cameras at Pioneer Park, and Burbank said his department is still studying the idea. Aside from technology, what police need most is the public's help, he said.
Last week's arrests were a welcomed change for Luann Lakis, who lives and works nearby.
"Drug dealers know it's the cost of doing business," she said. "This is a thriving neighborhood. There is a lot of good energy. I'm going to do what I can do to make it a great place to live."