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Salt Lake City, County Shift Focus To State Street Crime

Whittney Evans
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown sits with Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski Monday at a town hall meeting on crime.

City leaders and law enforcement officials are focusing efforts to curb crime and homelessness on State Street in Salt Lake City. It’s become an area where cheap motels provide a substitute for shelters and low-cost housing.

During a town hall meeting Monday night at Salt Lake Community College, residents and business owners along State Street met with city and county officials to talk about how crime is bleeding into neighborhoods and businesses.  

Brenda Barnes says vagrants sleep, live and urinate in her yard.

“I live alone and I’m the city watch people,” Barnes says. “I call for enforcement, and they just kind of look at you like, we’re doing the best we can.”

David Morris is an employee at the bar and restaurant Piper Down.

“Cops come out and they arrest someone for being crazy out of their mind on heroin, and naked in the street and walking out in the street, a danger to everybody and they’re arrested and the next morning I see them just as high as the day before,” he says.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder addressed those concerns, saying his options are limited.

“So after we’ve spent thousands of dollars medicating an individual to stabilize them because you’ve seen them out on the streets over and over again, they walk out the door and there is no damn treatment for them,” Winder says.

City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall says there is a drastic need for more addiction services, detox, and services specifically for women. But one big problem along State Street are the cheap motels.

“It’s not a population that’s traveling through town and needs a place to stay,” Mendenhall says. “It’s a population of sex workers, people coming out of incarceration who get housing money, there’s even refugee families.”

Mendenhall is hoping to create civil penalties for businesses that allow prostitution and other crimes on their property. Those penalties would remain with the property, even if it switches ownership. She says the reality is the motels aren’t the best use for the area, and could potentially be bought by the city for redevelopment. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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