SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of drug dealers and more than 50 pounds of illegal drugs have been taken off the streets thanks to the efforts of a specialized team working to stop crime among Utah’s homeless population.
The new totals were released Monday by a Utah State Bureau of Investigation task force assigned to Operation Rio Grande.
“From a criminal justice and a public safety standpoint, we would argue that it has been a very successful operation and it will continue to be as long as we are involved in it,” said Jared Garcia, a captain with the State Bureau of Investigation.
Commenced in August of 2017, Operation Rio Grande is an ongoing, three-phase effort to stop the lawlessness around the downtown Salt Lake City homeless shelter, 210 S. Rio Grande St., and provide resources to Utah’s homeless population.
“You could walk in the area and you immediately knew that it wasn’t a safe place to be,” Garcia said of the Rio Grande neighborhood before the start of the operation.
The 11-member team focuses on the worst of the criminal element, Garcia said, using intelligence gathering to find the most violent offenders who prevent homeless residents from getting assistance from the shelter and nearby service providers.
“They prey on the homeless; they prey on our communities,” Garcia said. “They take advantage of all of you and all of us that are coming to work every day and trying to do the very best we can.”
From August 2017 until the end of 2018, Garcia said his team has arrested 484 people — including 387 drug dealers and 99 fugitives. Those arrests resulted in seven federal indictments.
The police work also included carrying out 43 search warrants, seizing 33 firearms and confiscating nearly $130,000 in cash. The team also recovered 27 stolen vehicles.
In terms of drugs removed from the streets, Garcia provided the following totals:
- Heroin: 2,021 grams/4.6 pounds
- Methamphetamine: 10,283 grams/22.7 pounds
- Cocaine: 2,267 grams/ 5 pounds
- Marijuana: 2,948 grams/6.5 pounds
- Spice: 1,197 grams/2.6 pounds
“If you go down there today, I think you’ll see and feel a much different environment,” Garcia said about the Rio Grande area. “You’ll see an environment that anybody would feel comfortable walking through.”