SLCPD’s organized crime unit has new focus

Posted at 6:52 PM, Apr 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-05 21:43:06-04

SALT LAKE CITY - The Salt Lake City Police Department's new organized crime unit was out Thursday night for a prostitution bust.

The new unit has been operating since January, but Thursday's bust is the first time television cameras were able to see them in action.

Five men and one woman were arrested near State Street and 1500 South as undercover female police officers wearing plain clothes acted as decoys. When a deal was made, the new organized crime unit made the arrests.

The organized crime unit was formed after the department's vice squad was disbanded in the spring of last year because Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank thought his officers were getting too close to the prostitutes; they were under scrutiny for violating a no contact policy.

Prostitution arrests plummeted last year after the vice squad was disbanded, but Burbank says the new unit will come with new practices.

Police have refocused their efforts to catch "Johns" trying to pick up prostitutes. Their goal is to take away some of the demand for prostitution while also going after human traffickers.

"We never did away with vice enforcement, we just shifted it. It's going to be more upfront and less of a backroom thing which is what vice turned into," Burbank said in a January 8 interview with radio station KXRK.

"What we did is we got rid of the vice unit and now it.s the organized crime unit. We have put in there specific individuals to identify problems like human trafficking, higher level gambling and alcohol issues, not people consuming, but illegal transportation and things. That's what our focus will be, not the individuals."

Their tactics needed to shift, Burbank said, because prostitution isn't as visible as it used to be because many of the offenses are the result of online arrangements.

Related story:
SLCPD arrests six in prostitution sting