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Social workers to join Salt Lake City Police Department as part of unique pilot program

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Posted at 5:58 PM, Jun 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-10 19:58:50-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Eight social workers will soon be the newest addition to the Salt Lake City Police Department, and it's all part of a unique pilot program that's one of the first of its kind in the nation.

"I think the city council took a positive step forward [Tuesday] night in trying to really address the root causes of crime rather than just trying to increase the size of our police force," said Kyle LaMalfa, who is a council member with the Salt Lake City Council.

The Salt Lake City Council approved funding Tuesday for several new positions within the police department--eight of which will be social workers.

"The kinds of experiences they're having in the downtown area and other high-crime parts of the city are really problems that can be solved by getting people jobs, by getting them training, by figuring out if they have mental health problems," LaMalfa said.

Krista Dunn, Deputy Chief of SLC PD, also spoke about the move.

“A lot of times our homeless folks are the victims of crime more than they are the perpetrators of crime, and so--they don't know how to escape that, so our officers have been helping them try escape that, helping them to find the jobs they need, find the medical and psychological resources they need,” she said.

In return, officers say the extra help will allow them to focus more on responding to crimes.

"If you're down there and you're helping people get to jobs and that kind of stuff, then there's calls that can't be handled when people are having crimes happening in their neighborhoods,” said Michael Millard, President of the Salt Lake Police Association.

Millard says countless times he’s voiced his frustration about what he says is a shortage of officers on the streets.

"Last Saturday our afternoon squad, when they went home, they left 45 calls holding for the graveyard squad, so we definitely need more people to be able handle the volume that we have out there,” Millard said.

In addition to the new positions, the program will add at least eight new bike patrol officers. The city will also apply for a federal grant that would fund 15 new police officers.

"We hope that the increased police presence helps people know and understand that we're here, we're doing a great job, and in prominent places where people go--Liberty Park, Sugar House Park, Jordan River Parkway--that there are police officers close by if they're needed," LaMalfa said.

The Salt Lake City Council has until July to finalize their budget. The hiring process for the social workers is expected to begin in October.