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Ballpark neighbors: Shooting, homicide highlight deeper crime problem in area

Posted at 10:43 PM, Dec 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-23 00:53:19-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Just after midnight Tuesday morning, a townhome surveillance camera picks up the distinct sound of gunshots.

At least nine shots fire off in the dark distance, somewhere beyond the quiet townhome yards off Kensington Avenue.

Police would respond and find a man shot to death inside a car on Kensington Avenue near Main Street. They'd discover a second man and a woman shot, but still alive.

Nate Sase lives in one of the townhomes. He said his husband awoke to the noise, but Sase didn't hear the gunshots.

It wasn't until the morning when he saw the news, that he learned of the triple shooting-turned homicide just steps away from his front door.

Related: One man is dead and two others wounded in shooting near Smith's Ballpark

"It's definitely frustrating," Sase said. "It's also very scary."

Scary, he explained, because he questioned what if a bystander or neighbor was accidentally hit? Sase pointed out the townhome complex mailboxes are right where this all went down. Or what if someone was simply driving by on the street and a stray bullet struck them?

Frustrating, because this shooting doesn't come as a surprise.

"This neighborhood and the community have had just some issues with some crime," he said.

Issues, he and other neighbors detailed, like drug dealing and drug use, prostitution and escorting, finding needles and trash on the ground, and illegal dumping.

Some neighbors who spoke to Fox 13 talked about a commercial space near where the shooting took place that they said in recent months, has become a hub for suspicious activity.

Others talked about seeing issues at the Main Street Motel just south of Kensington Avenue, which police roped off as part of Tuesday's homicide investigation.

Sase said he won't walk his dog at night, and explained he has to choose his route carefully to avoid certain places.

He told a story of how someone tried to break into his home while he was alone inside one afternoon. When Sase called police, he said dispatch told him they didn't have anyone to send and to call back if the person made it inside.

Sase and other neighbors told Fox 13 they tried to bring their concerns to the city, police department, code enforcement and city council. They said they've gotten little response.

"It's been frustrating going from department to department, with each one telling us to contact someone else," he said.

Amy J. Hawkins, chair of the Ballpark Community Council, echoed those frustrations. She said they have called everyone they know and hosted anti-violence meetings with the mayor and police chief.

Related: Salt Lake City Mayor meets with residents over crime concerns in Ballpark area

Fox 13 has been reporting on those efforts and continued concerns in the Ballpark area since last summer.

Hawkins wondered what else they could do to help solve the issue and stem the violence in their neighborhood.

"How are people supposed to feel good about walking their dog in their neighborhood and letting their kids play on the playground in our neighborhood, when people are being shot like this?" She asked.

She expressed feeling ignored by the city.

"As a council member in 2019 I supported the police department expanding its efforts in the neighborhood, and as Mayor I continue to prioritize safety in our community," Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall wrote, in a statement to Fox 13. "While last night’s events appear to be the result of a dispute between known associates, not a random act of violence, I know that no matter what the crime is, having it happen in your neighborhood is very concerning."

She continued that they are focused as a city on the reduction of all crime across the community, "and with the elevation of crime rates in recent months, we have already made shifts to get more patrol officers out on our streets."

"We’re finalizing a comprehensive plan right now to do more with our partners in the state to tackle crime across the city," she wrote.

Hawkins said she'd like to hear a plan of what will be done to address specific aspects of crime in their neighborhood.

"I'm very excited about a plan, but why has it taken this many bodies?" She questioned.

Related: Sharp spike in property and violent crime in SLC, particularly in Ballpark neighborhood

Hawkins and Sase talked about wanting to see more resources to combat crime in the area, like an increase in police presence and safety measures like more lighting and fixing existing streetlights.

Steps that can help them feel safer in their own homes.

"Ultimately we'd like to see the area get better and be a good community for people to live," Sase said, adding, "And be a better place for Salt Lake City."

Salt Lake City Council Member Darin Mano posted this statement on Facebook Tuesday evening:

I am deeply concerned about crimes that happen in our neighborhood. The three shootings this morning unfortunately add to the lack of safety that my constituents have expressed feeling and that I myself experience as a Ballpark resident. I reached out to Chief Brown this morning and we had a discussion about this morning's events and potential strategies for the Ballpark neighborhood. Chief Brown assured me that there is no reason to believe that the events of this morning pose a current threat to uninvolved residents. I was glad to hear that. However, that doesn't change the fact that another life was ended in our neighborhood or that this type of event is beginning to feel like a regular occurrence. I share my neighbors' frustration.

There is no easy solution but we are looking into all options. Policing, code enforcement, and public safety are primarily administive functions. As a council member I am limited in my authority in these areas. But I have and will continue to advocate for our neighborhood.

I know there are some who believe that elected officials have created this problem by working toward racial equity in the police department. I've been thinking long and hard about this claim and whether my own actions have added to our public safety concerns. I don't believe they have. We did not defund the police. We've actually given the police department more tools and resources. And we have done so in a way that leads to more accountability and public control over the use of those funds.

No government department should exist except for to serve the community. Our primary focus this year has been to improve the police department. We have invested an unprecedented amount of time, energy, and even money into doing so. Change is difficult but necessary. I honestly believe that these efforts will result in a better police department that is fully functioning, more efficient, and better equipped to protect all Salt Lake residents.