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Salt Lake City Bringing ‘Downtown Ambassadors’ To Help Address Safety Issues On West Side

A photo of Lucy Cardenas in front of her restaurant Red Iguana.
Emily Means
Lucy Cardenas stands in front of her restaurant, Red Iguana, on North Temple. Salt Lake City and the Downtown Alliance have partnered to bring resources to the area to address safety concerns.

Lucy Cardenas’ family has owned the Red Iguana restaurant on the North Temple corridor on the west side of Salt Lake City since 1985. She’s a life-long resident of the area, but she said she’s worried about her community.

“Every day, I see people suffering in this neighborhood,” Cardenas said. “I walk this neighborhood with my dog. I want to continue to enjoy my neighborhood, and this neighborhood has so much to offer. So much potential.”

During a press conference Tuesday, Salt Lake City community leaders announced a new plan to address safety concerns on the west side. Residents and business owners have complained about crime, drug use and homeless encampments there.

The city is working with the Downtown Alliance to add six “downtown ambassadors” on North Temple. The program tries to connect people in crisis to services and also works with the Salt Lake City Police Department to deter crime.

Police Chief Mike Brown said the ambassadors will partner with bike patrol officers in the neighborhood. Brown said those officers perform outreach to people experiencing homelessness in the area but they’re still going to be focused on crime prevention.

“But make no mistake, if you’re a predatory criminal, if you’re down here to sell dope in our community, if you’re down here to steal cars, to carry guns, to threaten people, they will find you and they will arrest you,” he said.

Since the beginning of the year, bike officers have arrested 86 people on felony charges.

Brown said they don’t intend to add any new police officers at this time — just the ambassadors.

Steven Rivera has lived in the Fairpark neighborhood off North Temple for 15 years. He said he’s been to many meetings to discuss safety issues and the police don’t respond quickly enough to calls for service.

“I haven’t seen any change. I’ve just seen it get worse and worse,” Rivera said. “We don’t even take our dogs for a walk anymore without some kind of protection on us. It’s just gone downhill.”

Mayor Erin Mendenhall responded directly to Rivera, saying the city needs more police officers after a large number left the department last year.

“Our officers want to serve you, and they want to be able to show up when you need them. Not an hour or more later,” Mendenhall said. “That’s about having enough officers to respond to the real needs of our residents and our businesses.”

In the past, community activists have pushed back against increasing police presence in the North Temple area. They argue it will criminalize people experiencing homelessness.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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