Salt Lake City mayor, police chief prioritize staffing amid crime wave

The pay raise Salt Lake police officers received five months ago appears to help keep them on, Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Chief Mike Brown said Thursday.

“We started to see the recovery really begin in July,” Mendenhall told the editorial offices of Deseret News and KSL, noting that the city had an all-time high of 91 vacancies in late June 2021.

Whether it was the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, the wave of protests across the country, many calling for the police to be relieved, or something else, 130 officers left the Salt Lake City Police Department from January 2020 to September this year. The raise, which increased salaries by nearly 30% for entry-level professionals and 12% for higher-level executives, put the department on the right track, Mendenhall and Brown said.

But the department still has 57 vacancies to fill, and both the mayor and boss said one of the goals of the city’s updated four-step crime reduction plan is to fill the vacancies by the end of June 2022 .

“We don’t go out and say, ‘We just need more cops,'” Mendenhall said. “The demands and realities of quality of life pressures and overt crime that occur in our city and other capitals across the country are complex.”

In addition to filling vacancies, the plan’s overarching goals are to reduce crime, improve response times, and further develop community relationships.

The plan comes as Salt Lake City and the entire country experience a wave of violent crime, police calls, and a shortage of officials. Consider it:

  • In 2020, murders in the US rose nearly 30%, according to FBI data.
  • In the same year, the number of homicides in Utah rose 44%.
  • Violent crime, which includes murder, assault, robbery and rape, rose 5% nationwide between 2019 and 2020, according to the FBI.
  • In 2019, Salt Lake Police Department had 106,831 service calls – up from 123,350 in 2020, an increase of 14%, according to city data.
  • According to city data, violent crime in Salt Lake City has increased 7% since the beginning of the year.
  • There were 2,543 calls to the Utah capital for the week of November 1-7, which is a 24% increase over the five-year average, according to city data.
  • A survey of over 200 American police agencies by the non-profit think tank Police Executive Research Forum shows a 45% increase in retirement rates and a 20% increase in resignations in 2020-21 compared to the previous year.
  • Nationwide, Mendenhall says the departments are declining between 600 and 700 officials.

“We’re exactly on the right track with these national anomalies, and violent crime in Salt Lake City is still on the rise as it is across the country,” said Mendenhall, before realizing that “we are looking downward with total crime Go in the direction ”. Rates. Since the beginning of the year, crime has decreased overall by 1.7% and property crime by 2.6%.

The key to the city’s plan to curb the rise in violent crime is to hire and retain more civil servants. “Our patrol numbers are our main focus right now,” Brown said, and on Thursday he and Mendenhall implemented several strategies outside of recent pay increases.

  • A $ 5,000 bonus for certain officers who recruit officers from other departments.
  • A proposal to increase the radius of the city car policy to 60 miles. Currently, officials can only take their cars home if they live within 35 miles of the city limits.
  • The budget for community diversity training is approximately $ 200,000 – “This is not a video we bought from a national police training producer. This is done with our parishioners who can come in and brief our police on cultural aspects of our truly diverse communities, ”Mendenhall said.
  • Expand the city’s co-responder program from eight to 20 social workers, which will provide nearly 24 hours of co-responder coverage, in hopes of easing the burden on existing officials and improving community relations.
  • The mayor has requested US dollars for the bailout plan to create a Westside mutual fund that she says will enable a joint housing approach between the city and residents, including officers who may be drawn to Salt Lake City, but cannot afford to buy a house. “The median median cost of a home in Salt Lake County is over $ 550,000. I’m telling you, even though they got a raise, new cops can’t afford these types of houses and so they have to live farther away from the cities where they work, ”Brown said.

The idea of ​​hiring more police officers to reduce crime has been discussed. Residents of Austin, Texas, a city where homicides have increased, recently opposed an election that would have resulted in the hiring of hundreds of police officers, according to the New York Times. Opponents pointed to an increase in homicides in cities like Chicago and Atlanta, with the number of cops per capita well above Austin.

Meanwhile, the Times reported that cities with relatively small law enforcement agencies, such as Raleigh, North Carolina and El Paso, Texas, saw decreases in homicides compared to the total population.

The Times also cited a survey of criminal law experts in which about two-thirds said an increased police budget would have a positive impact on public safety. However, 85% said spending more on health, education, and housing would also improve public safety.

Brown agreed that taking a holistic approach – not just empowering the city’s police force – is essential to tackling violent crime.

“Unfortunately, violent crime is really difficult to influence. Because these are casual, passion, and angry crimes, and unless you have an officer to step in directly, it’s really hard to intervene … really believing that law enforcement will solve that is a fallacy. We all have to work together, ”he said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall listens as Police Chief Mike Brown speaks about the city’s crime rates during a press conference in Pioneer Park on Sept. 7, 2021. Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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