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S.L. City Council approves funding to increase police staffing

SALT LAKE CITY — More police will soon be roaming Salt Lake streets.

In a narrow 4-3 vote late Tuesday night, the Salt Lake City Council decided to open at least 18 full-time police positions, and in a later 6-1 vote, the council approved a resolution to encourage the mayor's office to apply for a federal grant that, if approved, could fund 15 new officers.

The decisions came despite earlier comments from Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank that increasing the force's muscle is not the answer to dealing with crime in Utah's capital city. But residents' complaints about a lack of police presence in neighborhoods from multiple districts pushed the City Council to boost the force's numbers.

"This is what we need," said Mike Millard, president of the Salt Lake Police Association. He added the decision is a "big step forward," even though the force could use at least 25 more officers to truly even out its busy workload.

Despite the city's growth over the past 20 years, the police force has hovered between 330 and 425 officers, Millard said, but many are taken from the field to work in specialty divisions. The new officers would mean a long-anticipated increase in the number of officers on the street, he said.

"Overall, I'm happy with the direction we're going," Millard said. "Now, hopefully the grant gets approved."

Of the 18 new positions to be funded when the City Council adopts the budget June 16, five will be newly sworn officers who would start in September. If the grant is approved, it would mean a total of 20 new officers.

Eight officers will be assigned to bike patrol on the city's east and west sides, city officials said. Of those, two officers will have already been employed but freed to return to the field due to hiring of civilians to take over their in-office duties.

Two officers will come out of training classes, and the other four will come from a new class of recruits.

Along with the bike patrol, the council also voted to hire eight new social workers to help police interact with those struggling with homelessness. The decision followed encouragement from Burbank, who stressed more emphasis on education and treatment.

The changes mean the city will pay an additional $810,000 in ongoing funds and $315,000 in one-time funds.

Councilman Kyle LaMalfa alone voted against the grant application, saying it would not be the best use of resources to fight crime. Instead, LaMalfa said, the city should be using funds to increase opportunity and access to education, but he applauded the decision to hire more social workers.

"I would love to see us invest more in programs that help those at risk of choosing a life of crime by extending access to education," LaMalfa said. "But this is a great first step. Hiring social workers was the way to go on this."

David Everitt, Mayor Ralph Becker's chief of staff, said the mayor's office is supportive of the council's decision and plans to apply for the grant. If approved, federal money would pay 75 percent of the cost for the new officers for three years, leaving the city to absorb the remaining 25 percent and continue to fund the positions after the grant expires.

"We know it's a competitive process, but we'll definitely put our best foot forward," Everitt said.

The mayor's office has until June 19 to submit an application. The City Council will know by September whether the grant is approved.

"We support their decision," Salt Lake Deputy Police Chief Tim Doubt. "More officers is never a bad thing, but we need to make sure we use them in the best ways we can."

Deputy Police Chief Krista Dunn said the new social workers will help officers be more affective in the field.

"I feel really good about where the council ended up," said Councilman Charlie Luke. "It's not as far as I would have liked to have gone — I still think we could use 25 — but having the new officers is extremely important to us, so I think we ended up in a good place."

However, Luke said he is concerned about the possibility that the grant is denied or doesn't fund the full 15.

"I'm really hoping that grant comes through," he said.

Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall said even if the grant isn't fully approved, residents can still expect an increased police presence in neighborhoods with the bike patrol.

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com