The price tag for Operation Rio Grande? $67 million

Posted at 2:58 PM, Aug 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-28 20:12:17-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- "Operation Rio Grande," a massive crackdown on crime preying upon people experiencing homelessness, is costing taxpayers about $67 million over the next two years.

That's according to numbers provided to FOX 13 by House Speaker Greg Hughes and Lt. Governor Spencer Cox following a meeting on the operation Monday.

"Truly, the law enforcement and the jail beds are really 50 percent of this effort for two years," Hughes, R-Draper, said. "The treatment beds and housing and services are the other 50 percent."

A pie chart provided to FOX 13 of the cost for "Operation Rio Grande." (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The Speaker and Lt. Governor were joined in a meeting by representatives from Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and others as they discussed long term planning for "Operation Rio Grande" and how to pay for it. Right now, the majority of the money is being covered by existing budgets.

Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, R-Utah (left), and Paul Edwards, the governor's communications director, walk into a meeting on "Operation Rio Grande" on Monday. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

However, there is a $20 million gap over the next two years. The city, county and the Utah State Legislature will have to find money to cover that.

"We want to keep up the maintenance of effort," Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said. "But I know we’re spending money out of certain pots of money we’re going to have to replace in the session."

"Operation Rio Grande" began two weeks ago, cracking down on crime surrounding the downtown homeless shelters. More than 150 officers have been assigned to the neighborhood. The Utah Department of Public Safety said that as of Friday, 544 people had been arrested, mostly for warrants and drugs.

The crackdown is moving into a phase where treatment options for addicts are becoming available. State and local leaders have also pledged more resources for jobs and affordable housing.

A man is arrested on warrants and possession of drug paraphernalia during "Operation Rio Grande." (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

State officials have vowed to keep "Operation Rio Grande" going until 2019 -- when The Road Home shelter is slated to close. Beyond the $67 million for the crackdown, the legislature previously funded $27 million for new homeless shelters.

"The problem is if we don’t do this, then our long term plans that we’ve been investing in for several years are not going to work," Cox told FOX 13.

Hughes said he believed "Operation Rio Grande" was showing signs of success. The street is quieter and homeless advocates say people staying in the shelters report they feel safer.

"I’m cautiously optimistic," the Speaker said. "Cautiously, because I know that as I get the reports, you have a sophisticated drug trafficking network out there that has not given up on this. And they have not given up on their customers."