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Police crackdown targets downtown Salt Lake

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SALT LAKE CITY -- There's an area downtown where police say crime has been going up -- aggressive panhandling, public intoxication and selling of drugs. But now there is significantly less crime thanks to a Salt Lake City Police operation this week.

Police say businesses and people were calling with complaints about more crime happening at the Salt Lake City Main Library and between 200 South and 300 South on Main Street.

"We do have a sort of accumulation of folks who can get a little bit rowdy, and some of them don't have language that's too clean; and every now and then we have altercations," says Tom Weller, of Sam Weller's Bookstore.

Weller says he sometimes finds people wandering in to use his bookstore's restroom then finds drug needles or vomit inside after they leave; but this week there have been a lot fewer of them on the block.

"We don't have quite the number of juggalos hanging around," Weller says.

"For several months we've been receiving complaints from business owners, residents, people that frequent this area, that there has been a lot of illegal activity going on -- from littering, thefts, smoking, selling drugs, that kind of thing," says Salt Lake police Lt. Melody Gray.

So, officers hit the area hard and used video cameras. From Monday morning, Oct. 11, to Thursday night, Oct. 14, Salt Lake City police officers dramatically increased their presence.

"When a uniformed police officer arrives on the street, people tend to behave themselves. So there were cameras installed," Gray says. "We had officers that would be watching what was going on, and as they watched they would let the officers on the street know who had done what and send them in to make the arrests."

Gray says they issued more than 250 citations -- everything from skateboarding on the sidewalk to open containers of alcohol and jaywalking. Officers also made nine felony drug arrests.

"It's to send the message out that we're not going to tolerate illegal behavior; and what it does is curb the behavior and prevents larger crime from occurring," Gray says. "If you ignore the small stuff they start doing bigger stuff. We are not going to ignore the small stuff."

Both police and shop owners say it worked.

"The crowds that are usually here have dissipated," Gray says. "We've had residents, employees in the area have come out and said, ‘Thank you very much.' We actually had a gentleman yesterday who said, ‘I feel like you've freed a small country.'"

The Salt Lake City Police Department says bicycle officers will continue patrol the area daily to maintain it.

"We want this to be a safe place for the people who use this area and work in this area," Gray says.


Story compiled with contributions from Jennifer Stagg and Mary Richards.

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