A Salt Lake police officer this week will go before a state commission on juveniles and crime to beg for additional funding to ease the onslaught of downtown youth crime.
The program that is credited with a 50 percent reduction in assaults and an 87 percent drop in disturbance calls during its first three months has run out of money. And it shows.It's getting uncomfortable again at 50 S. Main. In the two months since funding ran out for the teams of officers to patrol the downtown mall area during the times teenagers generally hang out, the atmosphere is getting lousy. More teens are hanging out, listening to music at eardrum-breaking levels and hassling shoppers. I won't shop anyplace I am uncomfortable.
But the Juvenile Interdiction Team made a difference so I didn't have to hassle with some of the undesirables who gravitate downtown. The pairs of officers patrolling the central business district, particularly the malls, made 900 arrests in the three-month period from January to March. Truants were returned to school and runaways returned home.
It was a nice idea.
"It was very professional. It hit up on the right places. It was just repetitive enough it forced them out of the downtown area," said police Sgt. Don Campbell, who oversaw the team.
But the $90,000 grant from the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice ran out. And efforts thus far to get funding at similar levels have been unsuccessful.
So now Campbell will go back and ask for one-sixth the original funding. The department does not have the money, and the merchants can't pick up the tab to make it safe for shoppers and workers.
It's not just a matter of getting rid of those who irritate shoppers and workers. It's a matter of getting to some of the people who gather and prey upon people. It's getting the people who sell drugs, break into cars and belong to gangs that revere violence.
"Also, we were able to do the follow up," Campbell said. "With juvenile interdiction . . . you call up his folks, you call up his school, call up his parole officer" to verify the information.
"The bad guys, the youth who were downtown for criminal activity, we cut them out of downtown."
The Salt Lake City Police Department's Foot Patrol cannot constantly deal with errant teens since it must deal with wandering drunks. And the cops on bicycles can't prevent auto and business burglaries when they're arguing with future lawyers about whether the state has any business telling a 15-year-old not to smoke.
It becomes a matter of hitting what you can when you can. So a few more cars don't have stereos - or windows - while the cops discuss conduct with some future felons.
I don't have a car stereo. But I do shop. And if I have to deal with street urchins asking for money or cigarettes, I'll shop someplace away from work and home. Or I'll shop at home with my credit cards and catalogs.
It is a nice idea to have cops patrolling during their off-duty hours to make a difference to all citizens. It would be even nicer if it could get funding.