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Katie McKellar, Deseret News

Utah leaders warn drug lords 'we're coming,' but disclose no details of new plan

By Katie McKellar, | Posted - Jul 26th, 2017 @ 4:16pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — They have a new plan.

After a closed-door meeting Wednesday that ran more than an hour over schedule, Gov. Gary Herbert, House Speaker Greg Hughes and others joined local mayors to announce a new "collaborative" effort to control the "lawlessness" happening in Salt Lake City's troubled Rio Grande neighborhood.

But the details of that effort weren't unveiled — and they likely won't be until after the plan is already underway.

That's according to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, whom Herbert named as the "point person" to lead the effort — similar to Hughes' call for a "homeless czar," though the governor shied away from using the Russian term.

"We're not going to tell the drug lords from other countries who are paying attention right now to Salt Lake City. They'll be watching this closely because that's what they do," Cox said.

"We're not going to let them know when we're going to come and how we're going to come, but we are going to come."

Cox then shared a warning word for those "drug lords."

"If you want to go someplace else and get out of Utah, now's a great time to do it because it's going to get a lot more difficult … in the days and weeks to come."

Cox, Herbert, Hughes, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski all declined to elaborate on the details after the 2 ½ hour, closed door meeting or any specifics about the new plan, but they did promise a broader, state-led initiative to tackle the violence, drug addiction and other crime now surrounding the Road Home's 1,100-bed homeless shelter.

"You're not going to get the blueprint," Hughes said, but he promised a "new and ramped up, concerted effort" to rein in "lawlessness."

"I know the citizens are anxious, they want to know, 'Are you really doing something or is this just another meeting?'" Cox said in response to questions pressing for details. "But this is not just another meeting. This one led to some concrete answers and results that we'll start to see immediately."

Cox did say, however, that "the first priority is going to be bed space."


We're not going to tell the drug lords from other countries who are paying attention right now to Salt Lake City. They'll be watching this closely because that's what they do. We're not going to let them know when we're going to come and how we're going to come, but we are going to come.

–Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox


"You can't start to crack down if you don't have a place to put people," he said. "What we don't want to happen is to just go in and disperse the problem into other communities, other neighborhoods. That doesn't solve anything; that just makes the problem worse."

Cox added that the discussion on opening up bed space for drug treatment and in jails will be the "very first discussion out of the gate" — and a discussion that won't happen next week or next month, but later this afternoon.

Without talking about "the details or nuances — which some need to be worked out," Herbert said the state will be working with the city and county agencies to discuss the use of more state resources to increase access to substance abuse treatment and law enforcement.

"We understand there is a need for more resources. We have cops on the street now, but we need more," Herbert said. "We have a need for more behavioral treatment that's going to take additional resources. … Yes, it' s going to take more money."

Acknowledging that Utah's small-scale Medicaid expansion plan is in flux because the required federal waiver remains stalled at the federal level, Hughes said he expects those dollars to be granted "later this year."

"We're going to turn up the heat to make sure those waivers are granted," the speaker said.

More information will be posted throughout the day.

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