SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City business owners and members of the Pioneer Park Coalition blasted the current crime situation ravaging the area, calling on city leaders to step in.
Many claimed the illegal camping being allowed in Salt Lake City is causing more crime.
“Today this park is symbolic as an epicenter of a tarnished community, held back by inaction, finger pointing and lack of fortitude,” said John Huber, former United States Attorney for the District of Utah.
Local business owner John Gardiner called it a public safety crisis.
“It is a fact that lawless camping fosters violent crime,” he said.
The lack of safety impacts everyone who lives in the area, Gardiner said.
“It is not just public safety of the buildings that we are concerned with, it is public safety of the neighborhoods. In recent years we have seen a big decline in public safety in the urban neighborhoods where we operate projects,” he said.
While crime is up this year in the Rio Grande area, which includes Pioneer Park, compared to 2020, it is down about 4 percent in past 5 years, according to SLCPD.
Recently Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown addressed some of the concerns brought up Tuesday.
“We will not let criminal activity go unchecked in our city. To those who say there is lawlessness in Salt Lake City, you are wrong,” he said.
People need to be held accountable and there needs to be a plan to make the area safer, Huber said. He called on Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall to step up.
“We are not advocating for the unfair treatment of homeless people, rather we are advocating for the equal application of the law, the law that is on the books. We are advocating for accountability of the choices people make,” he said.
Mendenhall spokesperson Lindsey Nikola said the concerns and frustration expressed Tuesday would be better directed at looking for solution’s to the statewide homeless issue.
“From convening the U.S. Attorney, Utah Public Safety Commissioner, and U.S. Marshall to help our city get high-impact criminals off the street, to expanding the work of Downtown Ambassadors, increasing pay to top-of-market for all first responders in the capital city, and coordinating with our Police Department on public safety focus areas within our city, Mayor Mendenhall is a leader who has consistently prioritized the safety of our City's residents, visitors and business owners,” she said in part.
This is an issue that can not be solved alone, but Mayor Mendenhall plays a large role, said business owner David Ibarra.
“The city doesn’t have the resources, the county doesn’t have the resources, the state does have the resources, but they aren’t going to give the resources if they don’t trust the city. We have to trust each other and come together with a comprehensive plan,” he said.
Nikola also responded to the concerns with illegal camping being allowed.
“With regards to our City's camping ordinance, which is a separate but equally important issue, the mayor has laid out the responsible and humane conditions necessary for more consistent enforcement of encampment laws, including an assurance that the system has adequate emergency shelter for currently unsheltered individuals and mitigation funding for public safety needs. Individuals experiencing homelessness need access to resources in order to make long-term and effective change, which is why this administration organized the Community Commitment Program nearly one year ago, convening more than a dozen service providers to meet people where they are at, on the street,” she said.
The Salt Lake City Police Department sent FOX 13 the following statement in response to Tuesday’s news conference.
Salt Lake City Police Officers are instructed to offer multiple opportunities for a camper to vacate on their own. Officers demonstrate compassion and common sense in their approach, involve the Community Connection Team, Volunteers of America and other stakeholders whenever practical and possible. Officers use the following steps in enforcing activity in and around illegal encampments:
1. Warn – warn subjects to comply with Salt Lake City Code and grant sufficient time for compliance.
2. Citation – issue a citation to those who have been warned and refuse to obey the law.
3. Book – book criminal offenders who have proven that prior steps were ineffective.