This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Earlier this month, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown met with his bike patrol officers and asked what he could he do to help them do their job. The No. 1 request was for more jail space.
Over the last year, the very visible criminal element has increased in the Rio Grande area and around Salt Lake City. The police are frustrated that they now have to use an app on their cell phones to see if they can arrest someone and take them to jail, even if they think that the law breaker is a threat to the neighborhood. If the criminal activity does not rise to the level of a felony, the jail will not accept them. They can take felony drug dealers to jail, but they get out of jail in a few hours.
In Salt Lake City, the jail budget is set and controlled by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams with the agreement of the Salt Lake County Council. There are 380 open beds that are not being used at Oxbow Jail (180 beds at the 560-bed Oxbow facility are used for treatment). When a police officer is witness to a drug buy, all that they can do is confiscate the drugs from the buyer and give a citation. But citations are essentially useless because police aren't allowed to serve warrants because … there is no space in the jail.
Without sufficient and appropriate jail space and district attorney funding, dealers are not kept in jail, DUI drivers continue to drive, driving without a license is just ticketed, car thieves steal dozens of cars in between arrests and criminals continue to steal to feed their drug addictions. Recently, a father of three was killed by a man with a long criminal history who should have been in jail. Earlier this month, a man who should have been in jail carjacked a car with children. During his apprehension, he tried to run down and kill three cops! Several months ago, a man seriously injured a cop. It turns out that he had been recently arrested twice before for attacking cops.
It is so bad that police cannot arrest someone who has attacked another person because it is usually a misdemeanor. A Goldman Sachs employee was attacked last year and the assailant, who was homeless, walked away. A homeowner was recently threatened and attacked in their yard but the police were not able to arrest the homeless person because the injuries did not reach felony status. The police are not just frustrated. They are furious that they are not allowed to take the obvious threats to society to jail.
Drug use is outrageously open and not affected by police presence. It is so bad that TRAX trains are now being used to peddle drugs. The drug addicts are starting to carry many needles, and police have to be extra careful during their frisks. All of this is done in the midst of an exploding homeless population. As Pamela Atkinson has said, if drug dealers are left in the homeless population, it will be increasingly difficult to provide enough treatment to help the homeless who are actually encouraged to get addicted and stay addicted.
A large part of the backlash against the homeless site plans is due to the criminal element that is already in the homeless population around Salt Lake City. If Salt Lake City is not able to effectively protect the citizens, residents and businesses from homeless drug addicts committing crime now, why would anyone want to allow more homeless in their area? Even the best treatment centers have not been able to eliminate drugs from being on premise.
Salt Lake County must place a higher priority on public safety and provide sufficient and appropriate funding for the jail and DA so that criminals realize that there are consequences for criminal behavior. Cops want more jail space available to take criminals to jail, and keep them there if they continue to be threats. That's what cops want.
George Chapman is a former candidate for Salt Lake City mayor.