SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City leaders hope to combat crime plaguing the North Temple corridor with a new team of friendly faces.
On Tuesday, Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced the move after the usual solutions failed to improve the struggling neighborhood west of downtown.
"It gets frustrating,” said resident Steven Rivera.
Living off North Temple, Rivera has witnessed crime, drug use and homeless camps getting worse.
“I feel bad for my kids because I won’t let them go outside. That’s what drives me nuts,” said Rivera.
For nearly a generation, the west side of North Temple earned a notorious reputation.
In 2019, a woman was shot in the head in broad daylight. On the same block a year later, a man was shot seven times and killed. Most recently, the liquor store was burglarized and an abandoned restaurant caught fire in March.
“I haven’t seen it change. I’ve just seen it get worse and worse and worse. We don’t even take our dogs for a walk anymore without some kind of protection from us,” said Rivera.
The Downtown Ambassador program expanded to North Temple on April 1.
“In investing time and resources in the area, I want North Temple’s business owners and residents to know that we hear you – we hear your calls for increased public safety, for economic investment, and for the resources necessary for this neighborhood to thrive through the years,” said Mendenhall.
The Downtown Ambassador Program, which is managed by the Downtown Alliance with city support, is a community-based public-safety resource that assists businesses, residents, visitors, workers and refers people experiencing homelessness to qualified service providers.
The expansion will add six ambassadors to work specifically to serve North Temple Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We had an opioid overdose we had to inject Naloxone. We were able to save two people during that process, but that’s all it takes is walking around talking to these guys and showing them that you care,” said Jared Arvaniteas of the first three days on North Temple.
The ambassadors also placed three people in a homeless shelter and helped police on six felony arrests.
“The Street Ambassadors have done a fantastic job in the downtown central business district and we are confident that this extension of the street ambassadors services will help people in crisis get the services and shelter they need, support local businesses in the North Temple neighborhood and make the area safer for all residents and visitors,” said Dee Brewer, executive director of the Downtown Alliance.
Ambassadors help police with lower priority calls, working closely with the local bike squad.
“Make no mistake, if you are a predatory criminal, if you are down here to sell dope in our community, if you are down here to steal cars, to carry guns, to threaten people, they will find you and they will arrest you,” said Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown.
Having seen it all before, Rivera isn’t so sure.
"It seems like nothing changed," said Rivera. "It’s frustrating.”
The crackdown on crime comes as developers plan to change the North Temple corridor. The Weinerschnitzel, known for multiple homicides, is slated for a commercial and residential project. Many other projects are also pending.
In 2020, the Downtown Ambassadors performed 6,591 wellness checks on individuals in the downtown area, referred 1,448 individuals to shelter and services, responded 2,859 times to merchants who needed assistance and administered 184 doses of naloxone to prevent an overdose.