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Pioneer Park Coalition urges support for proposed police precinct

The Pioneer Park Coalition is urging members to support a proposed reorganization of the Salt Lake City Police Department that would shift 100 officers to a Pioneer Precinct.
The Pioneer Park Coalition is urging members to support a proposed reorganization of the Salt Lake City Police Department that would shift 100 officers to a Pioneer Precinct.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed reorganization of the Salt Lake City Police Department would establish a police precinct in the Rio Grande/Depot District, placing about 100 officers in the neighborhood, according to an email sent to members of the Pioneer Park Coalition.

Coalition members were urged to lend their support for the reorganization by speaking out at Tuesday’s Salt Lake City Council meeting or emailing City Council members, the email states.

The grass-roots coalition is privately funded and includes area business and property owners, community leaders, homeless services providers, police and government representatives.

The Salt Lake City Police Department would not confirm the proposal, but a spokeswoman said Chief Chris Burbank is scheduled to brief the City Council on the department’s proposed budget for 2014-15 on Tuesday afternoon. Overall, the proposed budget for the police department for the upcoming fiscal year is $57.8 million, about $2 million more than the current year, according to city documents.

No details would be released until Burbank’s presentation during the council work session, tentatively scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. in Room 326 of the Salt Lake City-County Building, 451 S. State, said department spokeswoman Lara Jones.

The council’s agenda includes an organizational chart that places a "Pioneer Precinct" under the purview of Logistics Deputy Chief Tim Doubt, who is also over the public safety complex, the evidence and crime lab, as well as tech support.

The police department presently operates a substation in a storefront west of Pioneer Park, Jones said. Officers use the space to do paperwork and store equipment, but it is not open to the public.

Other sources who spoke on background said preliminary discussions with the police department contemplated assigning more officers a precinct to patrol the area and housing other officers such as detectives in precinct offices to establish a greater police presence in the Pioneer Park/Depot district.

Salt Lake City officials would not comment on the proposal and referred questions to the police department.

Liz Buhler, the city’s homeless services coordinator, said multiple strategies are at work to address concerns raised by business owners, homeless service providers and residents of the Pioneer Park/Depot area.

"There's a lot of excitement, and a lot of people want to help what they see as a situation that can be improved," Buhler said.

The inaugural Street Engagement Team, composed of three nonprofit agencies that provide direct services to homeless people — Fourth Street Clinic, Volunteers of America and The Road Home — is expected to launch within two weeks. The team was funded with a grant from the Salt Lake County Council of Governments.

The city plans to install specially designed public restrooms near The Road Home shelter and across the street from the Salt Palace in July. The restrooms would be based on the Portland Loo design, which are made of stainless steel and have angled slots at the top and bottom, enabling police to readily determine whether the units are being used for drug sales, prostitution or other illegal activity.

"It's a very cool thing. It's a service, but we're not creating a new spot where crime might happen. Unfortunately, that happens in more traditional restrooms," Buhler said.

The city has concentrated heavily on improving the area since last fall, an effort that includes long-term planning for use of Pioneer Park, she said.

In recent months, Salt Lake police have stepped up enforcement and community policing activities in response to complaints of businesses and residents about safety and filthy conditions in the park and surrounding streets.

Cleanup crews from Valley Services regularly pick up trash, and the police department recently announced an initiative that encourages businesses or nonprofit agencies with private surveillance systems to share their IP addresses with the department to give them “additional eyes,” Deputy Chief Mike Brown said at the time.

Meanwhile, the city prosecutor’s office has urged crime victims in the community to fill out victim impact statements to help prosecutors obtain maximum penalties for offenders.