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Kristin Murphy, KSL

No 'mission accomplished,' but Operation Rio Grande successes celebrated

By Katie McKellar, KSL | Posted - Aug 14th, 2018 @ 7:03pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Marking the one-year anniversary of the beginning of Operation Rio Grande — the multijurisdictional effort to root out crime in Salt Lake City's most infamous neighborhood — community leaders gathered Tuesday to report the successes and shortfalls of the past 12 months.

Some of the successes:

  • Part one crime (more serious felonies) in the Rio Grande neighborhood had decreased by 44 percent, according to Salt Lake police estimates.
  • Salt Lake County added 243 new residential treatment beds to target drug addiction.
  • Road Home average shelter stays have decreased from 48.5 days in 2017 to 43.5 days in 2018.
  • About 106 people have become employed with the support of the operation's employment counselors, according to the Department of Workforce Services.

But state, city and county leaders also admit there are areas that need improvement, such as ongoing "dispersion" with crime being pushed into other areas of Salt Lake City, jail capacity, safety issues inside the downtown shelter, long waitlists and unmet demand for treatment, lack of capacity for criminal justice treatment programs, and lack of health coverage for the needy.

"There is no 'mission accomplished' banner hanging behind us," Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said, noting along the way leaders have found "problems, roadblocks and impediments we knew would be there."

For decades, community leaders have tried to clean up Pioneer Park and the Rio Grande neighborhood, Cox said — and "it's not something that, again, will be solved last year or this year or next year."

"But the important thing for me is we're making progress," he said.

So while officials acknowledged successes over the past year, they also discussed the various weaknesses and discussed what will come next for Operation Rio Grande over the next 12 months.

Those next steps include continued deployment of public safety officials to target dispersed crime, enhanced security inside the Road Home's shelter, coordination between agencies to address jail bed capacity, and continued Department of Public Safety attacks on drug cartel networks.

For treatment options, Salt Lake County officials plan to expand the number of beds in October, and also to meet with the Department of Workforce Services to address the shortage of detox resources and discuss the possibility of making social detox a service covered under Medicaid.

County officials also plan to expand its sober living network by meeting with more eligible sober living providers, as well as form a steering committee to increase capacity for structured criminal justice treatment programs.

A new Volunteers of America detox and residential treatment center is also slated to open next year to increase treatment resources, officials said.

For health coverage, the state will either implement the partial Medicaid expansion that the Utah Legislature passed during the 2018 general session or will plan for full expansion if the November ballot initiative passes, state officials said.

For work opportunities, Department of Workforce services officials laid out plans to begin more programs to connect job seekers to jobs, as well as coordinate with drug court programs or treatment providers to help people who might not want change or aren't ready for work.

State officials also discussed the June 2019 closure of the Road Home's downtown shelter and ongoing safety concerns, and plans to work with the shelter's owner, Shelter the Homeless, to integrate the three new homeless resource centers under into Operation Rio Grande programs.

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Updated: Friday September 21, 2018 10:25 pm