Street officers see difference following boost in Rio Grande patrols

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SALT LAKE CITY—Five days after Salt Lake City’s police chief announced a beefed-up presence in the Rio Grande neighborhood, officers who regularly patrol the area said Wednesday the strategy initially appears to be making some difference.

“Last week you could have seen the entire fence lined with people, and that includes the (drug) dealers,” reflected bike patrol Sgt. Andrew Cluff, standing next to the police department’s mobile command post stationed in the middle of 500 West near 200 South. “This week it’s a lot more sporadic, and the dealers aren’t there because of the amount of enforcement we’ve had down here.”

The increase in officers came after a surge in violent crimes, including three murders in less than two weeks.

“Because of the recent homicides, attempted homicides and assaults that we’ve had—the violent crimes that have occurred recently—it shot up a big red flag in this area, which is why we’re devoting a lot of our resources down here right now,” Cluff said.

Cluff noted a formal statistical analysis of the strategy had yet to be completed, and also acknowledged persisting drug crime issues in the area.

During a KSL ride-along Wednesday afternoon, police said one arrest involved a woman dealing heroin and cocaine just around the corner from the mobile command post.

“I was standing about this close to her while this was going on,” Officer Chris Smith gestured with his hand. “She didn’t see me. I rolled up behind her on a bike.”

Salt Lake police mobile command center. Photo: Adam Sotelo, KSL TV
Salt Lake police mobile command center. Photo: Adam Sotelo, KSL TV

Still, Cluff said he has observed changes in the neighborhood since the increased patrols, including many people who had been hanging around in the area going elsewhere.

“At one point we had 69 tents that were set up in this area,” Cluff said of 500 West. “Now, you’ll see sporadically one or two, maybe upwards of five or six.”

Thanks to eased jail booking restrictions, officers now have the flexibility to target lesser crimes in hopes of deterring greater ones, Cluff said.

“A lot more people are starting to listen to us when we ask them to do things, whereas before they would just shrug their nose at it and do their own thing,” Cluff said. “Trying to put our visible presence down here kind of helps us work toward working through those issues, and helping to create that public safety that we’re trying to get down here.”

Photo: Adam Sotelo, KSL TV
Photo: Adam Sotelo, KSL TV

Cluff expressed hope for the area’s future.

“The effort that we’re doing here—there are plans to follow up with even more enforcement in this area,” he said. “I think that through the combined efforts of not only the police department and the city and community as a whole, we can make a difference. It will just take everyone together to accomplish that.”


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