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If you are buying or selling drugs in the Rio Grande District near the Road Home shelter, you will be arrested and you will be prosecuted.
That's what Mayor Ralph Becker said Tuesday as he announced a crackdown on drug trafficking in the Rio Grande District and a move to put more cops on the street.
The new program that seeks the involvement of residents and business owners will be coordinated by Interim Police Chief Mike Brown, who took the helm seven weeks ago after the ouster of Chris Burbank.
Brown, a 24-year veteran in the Salt Lake City Police Department, said the Rio Grande turf is not new to him and he will emphasize drug busts.
Becker conceded that efforts in the past have fallen short. But he said he was making a new and tougher effort to root out drug dealing near the Road Home shelter that he described as a regional problem.
"Most of the folks who come here don't live in Salt Lake City," he said. "They come here to find help. But much too often they come here for illegal activity."
The new strategy will be characterized by increased enforcement and a move back to the old beat system with bicycle patrols. The department will now have 32 bike officers. And those patrols will have permanent beats, rather than the previous system that shuttled them around the city.
But Brown explained that homelessness and its attendant challenges are not just a police problem but one borne by the entire community. Police encourage residents and business owners to call to report drug trafficking or other troublesome behavior directly to the bike patrol.
Further, eight social workers will be coordinating with police in the Rio Grande area to help homeless people get treatment, housing and job training.
"We are all in this together," Brown said. "And together we can make a difference."
Deputy Chief Josh Scharman is taking over the Rio Grande District duties. He replaces Deputy Chief Fred Ross, who has moved to investigations.
Although the new team has a revised strategy, it faces a problem that has been daunting.
Drug traffickers hide among the homeless and prey upon them. But most of the volume in drugs is sold to a drive-up clientele from along the Wasatch Front and beyond.
Then-Police Chief Chris Burbank told the City Council in May that he did not want more officers "because we can't arrest our way out of this."
But the tone now has changed and Becker has promised to make more arrests. The challenge, of course, is to arrest the bigger traffickers, rather than the small-time users or addicts.
Brown said his officers will go undercover to ferret out traffickers, many of whom he believes are tied to Central American cartels.