Today we took unprecedented action to restore public safety in parts of downtown Salt Lake City.
We are too used to seeing news reports about assaults, stabbings and shootings in the area. The public doesn’t feel safe, our businesses are affected and many vulnerable people, such as those experiencing homelessness, are targets of crime. All this needs to change.
Our actions are to arrest and jail the criminals who need to be prosecuted and arrange for those who need help, those who suffer from drug and alcohol or mental health issues, to gain access to the treatment and support they need for recovery.
City and county leaders, including the Salt Lake City Police Chief, County Sheriff Jim Winder, District Attorney Sim Gill and county Behavioral Health Director Tim Whalen cooperated in working through the complex nature of the situation. We know that if it isn’t handled differently, we won’t see any better outcomes than we’ve seen in the past.
I support the state Legislature’s changes to Utah’s criminal justice system, known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. JRI reduced penalties for certain drug crimes, allowing those who were convicted to serve shorter sentences and avoid passing through the state prison system. Overall that’s a good thing, but it has had a tremendous impact on the county’s system. Post JRI, we’ve seen a 209 percent increase in class A misdemeanor crimes, which are now largely handled by county jails or county-based diversion and supervision.
Today’s law enforcement action is the first time we’ve been able to include diversion to treatment, as an alternative to jail, for those arrested in the downtown area where drug crimes are all too evident. The county has committed $1.2 million to offer immediate access to treatment to individuals from licensed medical providers – for up to six months.
I want to thank the dedicated men and women in local law enforcement who put their lives on the line to protect the public every single day. I want to thank Mayor Jackie Biskupski for being a leader on this issue. I want to thank the business community for their patience as we work towards a solution. My commitment is to track the data from the law enforcement work we’ve begun today and use it to deliver sustainable progress in the area.