Crime is down overall but Mendenhall says Salt Lake City is ‘never done’ addressing safety
Crime in Utah has decreased to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual crime report.
After a spike in 2020, Utah’s violent crime is now more in line with 2017’s rate — about 242 cases per 100,000 people.
That trend mirrors a national decline in crime following a spike at the beginning of the pandemic. The report compiles data from police departments across all 50 states and tracks both violent crime and property crime.
However, the data show violent crime in Utah’s capital city has not declined at the same rate as the rest of the state. In Salt Lake City, there was a 1.94% drop from 2021-2022 compared to a 6.56% decline statewide. Property crime, on the other hand, has steadily decreased in Salt Lake City and Utah as a whole since 2020.
“We are never done looking for ways to improve on public safety in this city,” she told reporters during a Nov. 27 post-election news conference. “You should see, you will see, that continue to evolve. And we're always open to new good ideas.”
Pointing to the city’s booming population growth since 2019 and more people visiting downtown post-pandemic as possible reasons why certain parts of the city have remained hot spots, Mendenhall said there are efforts underway to address the issue.
“That's why we've built the crime control plan and why we've issued new aspects of it and new projects in it,” she said. “Partnership with the FBI, the ATF, the U.S. Marshal and U.S. Attorney's Office to get high impact criminals in this city behind bars for a longer period of time through those federal resources than we could do by dropping them off at the county jail has been another one of those big levers.”
The Ballpark neighborhood has seen one of the highest crime rates in the city. While efforts to address crime are ongoing, some community leaders worry that residents are suffering from “engagement fatigue.”
“I think some people are tired of hearing that they need to keep [their engagement] up,” said Ballpark Community Council Chair Amy Hawkins. “I think they need to see some results that their engagement matters.”
Pointing to the effort required for residents to attend feedback sessions or other city events while juggling jobs, family and other responsibilities, Hawkins hopes people can “sustain that energy for the neighborhood for as long as we need them to.”
That said, experts warn that long-term solutions to crime are often generational projects.
“You're really talking about building community infrastructure,” said Christian Sarver, associate director of the Utah Criminal Justice Center.
Sarver said intervention programs with young children aimed at providing things like mentorship and recreational opportunities can be an important step when addressing crime from a long-term perspective.
“I think what the research shows is that all of those factors are a much bigger part of preventing crime than just asking police to do it — when they don't really have the tools to do a lot of what is needed to prevent crime,” she said.
Sarver encourages people to be proactive on the underlying causes of crime instead of only paying attention to the end results.
“I think what we tend to do is ignore those social problems until they become a public safety issue, at which point we deploy the police who have really not a ton of great options,” she said. “Obviously, they're an important part of controlling crime, but really, it would be better if you could give police something else.”
Even as Ballpark’s Hawkins said she wants to see quicker action on residents’ feedback, she also acknowledged that solving issues of crime will likely be a years-long process.