SALT LAKE CITY — Kim Stockdale is a longtime resident of a quiet neighborhood in Salt Lake City. She knows her block like the back of her hand, and she knows her neighbors.
So when odd things started to happen at the house next door, she began taking notes.
The house had been put up for sale and was vacant because the home’s owner lived out of state. But one morning, Stockdale spotted a woman riding up to the house on a bike. After dark, Stockdale saw people moving in, and then a man by the name of Daniel showed up. She didn’t know who Daniel was, or anyone else she’d seen going in and out of the home for that matter.
Next, the lockbox came off the front door and the “For Sale” sign in the front yard, “just disappeared,” said Stockdale.
At first, she thought the owner changed his mind about selling and rented it. But about a week later, the real estate agent showed up, took one look around, realized someone had moved in and called police.
The day police came was almost like a scene out of TV crime drama, Stockdale recalled. Guns drawn, police entered the home began yelling out, “Salt Lake City police, if you’re in here, call out now!”
“When police came, they were barricaded in a back room,” explained Stockdale.
One by one, police handcuffed several people who had been squatting inside the home.
Naturally neighbors thought, “They need to go to jail.”
But police couldn’t take anyone to jail because the Salt Lake County Jail wouldn’t allow it.
The offense wasn’t a felony and in Salt Lake County, if it’s not a felony, officers say their hands are tied.
On Mar, 1, 2016, the Salt Lake County Sheriff issued an order essentially barring police departments across the valley from using the jail to book most suspects who’ve been caught committing misdemeanor offenses.
With few exceptions, offenders who trespass, break into vehicles, use and buy illegal drugs, assault police officers or residents can’t be taken to jail because of booking restrictions.
It was a way to manage the inmate population, the sheriff said at the time.
But police officers in several different jurisdictions have told KSL-TV’s investigative team that the jail plan is wreaking havoc in neighborhoods.
“It’s been ridiculous”, said Salt Lake City police Sgt. Scott Mourtgos. “We need to be able to book people into jail for the crimes they commit.”
Click the "full screen" option to expand. Data collected by Salt Lake City Police Department.
Previously, officers used discretion on which suspects should go to jail. The basic premise is that communities are safer when offenders are locked up, even if they’re booked in for a few hours and then released. Now, the new plan bars police from jailing almost all suspects who commit misdemeanor crimes or have misdemeanor warrants for their arrest. There are some exceptions to the booking restrictions such as domestic violence, violations of protective orders, child abuse and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“You could break into that car down there and I can see you and catch you and I’d get the stuff back, but you wouldn’t be going to jail,” said Mourtgos.
And when the jail won’t allow officers to book offenders who assault them, Mourtgos says, “it’s demoralizing”.
The KSL Investigators requested an interview with Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder to see if he has plans to change the policy and he declined the request.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown grew so concerned about how it was impacting crime in his city his department created a special code for police reports last fall.
“You can’t lock the front door of the jail, you just can’t,” Brown said.
Now when officers respond, they use the new code to document if an offender should have gone to jail, but couldn’t be booked due to the jail’s policy.
Data release last week showed 40 percent of the offenders SLCPD apprehended over a four-week period from January to February couldn’t be taken to jail.
“It’s impacting the way we want to serve our community,” Brown said.
All officers can do is issue suspects a citation and release them on the spot.
“We’re just leaving them in the neighborhoods,” explained Brown.
According to an analysis the department provided to KSL Investigators the city is concerned that the jail policy is contributing to a rise in thefts, assaults, drug use, and forgeries.
The concern among officers is that crime will continue to rise unless real solutions are found soon.
Stockdale says the policy makes her feel unsafe. She said after police released the suspects who’d gotten into her neighbors home, they returned later that night, but failed to break in again.
To Stockdale, the jail policy needs to change.
“It means to me that someone can get away with whatever they want to, and I don’t like that. I feel that justice wasn’t done. It’s as simple as that, justice was not done.”