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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City's mayor and police chief believe overall crime trends in the city are headed in the right direction.
But they could still be better.
"I'm not satisfied. I don't think Chief Brown is satisfied. I can't speak for the City Council but I don't think the City Council is satisfied either," Mayor Erin Mendenhall said.
On Tuesday, Mendenhall and Chief Mike Brown held a press conference at Pioneer Park to update the public about the city's crime rates and the efforts being made to reduce criminal activity.
The overall crime rate in Salt Lake City from the beginning of the year through the end of August is down, according to the city. On a five-year average, overall crime is up 2.9%, Brown said, with property crimes (such as stolen property) and quality of life crimes (like vandalism) being down in most areas of the city.
One exception is the city's Council District 1, which includes the Fairpark area, Westpointe and Rose Park, where property crime is up 49% compared to the five-year average, Brown said. Another disturbing trend is an increase in aggravated assaults throughout the city involving family members — including a 55% increase in Council District 5, which includes the Ballpark and Liberty Park neighborhoods, the chief stated.
However, Brown is encouraged by statistics such as a 66% drop in business crimes in Council District 4, which includes downtown Salt Lake City.
"The work toward a safer community is really never ever complete. There's always room for improvement. But I'm encouraged to be able to say to you today that we have made strides in making our city safer citywide, including right here in downtown Salt Lake City," the mayor said.
But both Mendenhall and Brown acknowledged with frustration that their press conference comes on the heels of two shooting incidents in Salt Lake City over the holiday weekend.
On Saturday, two teenagers were injured in a drive-by shooting near 590 N. 1100 West. Eduardo Antonio Tafolla, 21, and Junino Cuatemac Tafolla, 19, were each arrested and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of three counts of aggravated assault and three counts of firing a gun. In that case, one teen was shot in the arm and another in the leg, according to a police booking affidavit. Both were treated for their injuries at a local hospital.
In a separate incident about 6:15 a.m. Monday,, a 56-year-old man was injured in a drive-by shooting near 500 South and Wright Circle in the Poplar Grove area. The man was taken to a local hospital with injuries not considered to be life-threatening.
While Brown said another press conference will be held in the coming weeks to update the public on the city's partnership with the U.S. Marshals Office and U.S. Attorney's Office in going after violent offenders, during which more statistics about the city's violent crime numbers are expected to be released. Brown did call the number of violent crime incidents in the city this year, particularly gun violence, "real concerning" and made a plea specifically toward the teens and young adults of the community.
"It is time to put down your guns. Too many lives are being impacted in our city because of firearms," he said.
According to statistics kept by KSL.com, there have been 12 homicides in Salt Lake City in 2021 through Tuesday, with eight of those victims being killed by gunfire. There were eight homicides in the city last year at this time.
But while crime statistics overall are trending in the right direction for the city, both Brown and Mendenhall acknowledge that perception is reality for businesses and residents.
"Our data and the direction of our police department is encouraging, but it's not nearly as safe as our residents deserve," the mayor said. "We have to do more. We are doing more."
Mendenhall said she will be holding a follow-up press conference in the coming weeks to one she held on Aug. 5 addressing the homeless problem. But she said the solution is "absolutely not" more policing.
Brown has been assigning extra officers to the areas that need the most attention based on the data being collected. For example, more officers were recently assigned to patrol Pioneer Park. And the department has recently been involved in an "extensive crime mitigation effort" around the Rio Grande neighborhood.
The mayor on Tuesday also addressed staffing issues at the police department, saying they too are headed in the right direction. Brown said he is still down 56 paid positions in his department. But the city has hired 20 new officers since June and rehired an additional seven officers who had left the department but recently decided to come back.
"Our goal is to continue to send a clear message that crime is not welcome in Salt Lake City and we're going to act swiftly and strategically to prevent it and then to make sure prosecution can happen when it does happen," the mayor said.
Domestic violence resources
Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:
Utah Domestic Violence Coalition: Utah's confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465)
YWCA Women in Jeopardy program: 801-537-8600
Utah's statewide child abuse and neglect hotline: 1-855-323-DCFS (3237)
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233