SALT LAKE CITY — The glow from business windows lit up 900 South Tuesday evening as diners talked while sharing a meal in restaurants like Nohm, and a fitness-clothing-clad group chatted in the lobby of Pure Barre.
The buildings along the street between West Temple and 300 West mix a modern aesthetic with an older, eclectic feel. The area combines a commercial, industrial, and quiet residential vibe.
"This is a great neighborhood," said Paul Johnson, who has called the Central Ninth Neighborhood home for 15 years.
Cameron Smith works on 900 South every day as a partner and executive creative director for Infinite Scale Design Group.
He loves that the Central Ninth is adjacent to the I-15 West Temple off and on-ramps, features a TRAX stop and sits close to downtown.
But Smith can't overlook what he described seeing often outside their business windows.
"Drug use, some crime, there has been some violence in the area. And it's concerning," he said.
Smith explained that people try to get inside his business about once a month and become upset when they can't come in. He talked about how those people often become verbally abusive, bang on or kick the windows or throw things at the glass.
He's found needles and baggies on the ground — both empty and filled with substances that resemble drugs. People defecate outside his building.
Johnson described how residents living around Central Ninth have experienced people trying to enter their homes in the middle of the night, or knocking on the windows to ask for drugs or money at 3 in the morning.
He and Smith both talked about fires that started inside abandoned buildings, including a large blaze that destroyed an old business back in September.
Recently, a man stabbed a woman at the TRAX station.
"The last year has brought dramatic changes ever since [Operation] Rio Grande occurred. We've noticed a lot more crime and unsheltered people moving into the neighborhood," Johnson said.
Johnson and Smith both sit on the Central Ninth Community Council. They each talked about a meeting that took place Monday evening, where residents and businesses brought up those exact crime concerns.
They said Senator Derek Kitchen and Representative Angela Romero attended the virtual meeting.
Smith described how one resident got emotional as the resident explained how someone tried to enter his home on Christmas Eve, and then someone else tried to enter on Christmas Day.
Johnson feared the issues would lead to people and businesses moving away from the area.
"Salt Lake City needs help," Johnson said. "And we need help from the county —dramatically. We need help from the state. Salt Lake City is over-stressed, and it's overstretched on its services that it can provide."
Cue this announcement the next morning: Salt Lake City is teaming up with state and federal agencies to crack down on violent crime.
According to statistics released by the Salt Lake City Police Department, violent crime rose by 21 percent in 2020 over 2019, and rose nearly 10 percent compared to the five-year average.
Crime spiked in Salt Lake City overall by 23.9 percent.
"We will not stand by and allow our residents to continue to be victimized by people who should not be free to roam our city streets," said Mayor Erin Mendenhall during a Tuesday morning press conference.
According to Tuesday's announced "2021 Crime Plan," the city's goal this year is to reduce crime by 10 percent overall, with the hope of dropping violent crime by 5 percent.
To help do that, Salt Lake City Police will team up with the Department of Public Safety, US Marshals and Utah US Attorney's Office to target repeat violent offenders.
The plan includes increased patrols in specific areas and focusing on people with outstanding warrants.
"What we'll bring is our expertise, our technology, our manpower and our ability to find fugitives that are hiding in our neighborhoods," said Matt Harris with the US Marshals.
Johnson and Smith were hopeful upon hearing the plan.
"Any assistance to keep the hardcore felons — the people who are preying upon the unsheltered community and bringing the scourge of violent crime to our neighborhood — is welcome," Johnson said.
He said he hopes it's a small step forward toward public safety, to address the issues in the neighborhood.
Smith talked about how they're also trying to come up with other solutions to help mitigate the issues. At the Central Ninth Community Council Meeting Monday night, he said they asked for more police presence on certain days of the week and certain times.
In addition to short term initiatives, he said there should be long term initiatives as well.
"It's going to be a great neighborhood at some point. And it already is," Smith said. "We just want to find ways to make it safer and more enjoyable."