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One Expert Says More Police In Salt Lake City Wouldn't Necessarily Lead To Less Crime

A photo of Mike Brown at a podium.
Emily Means
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown announced the city is making progress on its crime rates.

The Salt Lake City Police Department is dealing with a people shortage. Officials say right now they’re down around 80 officers.

Meanwhile, both property and violent crime rates are up since 2019.

In January, Salt Lake City launched a targeted effort to address the spike in crime. During a press conference last week, Police Chief Mike Brown said they’ve made some progress.

But he also said they could do better with more officers.

“The more time they can spend in their beats, the more proactive they can be,” Brown said. “So, yes, the more officers we have, the more impact we’ll have on crime, because believe it or not, criminals don't like to see police officers out on the street.”

But one expert said that’s not necessarily the case.

Shima Baughman, an associate dean at the University of Utah law school, researches policing and criminal justice.

Baughman said having officers on the streets seems to prevent property crimes, but that doesn’t bear out for acts like aggravated assault or rape.

“Typically, violent crime may not occur when police are present, but it does occur later,” she said. “So it's difficult to say, ‘Well, we're stopping violent crime by having police present.’”

Baughman said nationally, police spend less than 10% of their time solving and preventing serious crime. Instead, she said they’re responding to noncriminal calls, like medical or traffic issues.

“We're having police — not just in Salt Lake City, but everywhere — focusing on things that social workers and [other] individuals should be doing,” she said.

As the police department looks to fill its vacant positions, Baughman suggested looking at how public opinion has shifted on law enforcement’s role in the community.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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