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Safe Passage Initiative aims to make students feel ‘safe and supported’ on their school commutes

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Police Chief Mike Brown discusses the Salt Lake City Safe Passage Initiative at a press conference.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown discusses the Salt Lake City Safe Passage Initiative during a press conference at Backman Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Tuesday marks the beginning of school for all Salt Lake City School District schools. For some elementary students, it’s the first time they’ll actually experience in-person instruction after two years of virtual learning through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back-to-school time means more students walking to school, which is why Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced the new Safe Passage Initiative at Backman Elementary School on Monday.

“Simply put, students and their parents should not have to worry about the student’s safety getting to and from school from their home,” Mendenhall said.

To alleviate this worry, the Salt Lake City police are partnering with the Salt Lake City School District to enhance police patrols around Backman Elementary School, Mary W. Jackson Elementary School and the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center.

“This response is not actually an indication of the rise in crime in these areas; it’s just a proactive effort that we’re taking as a city to try to ensure that our children are safe as they come to school,” Mendenhall said.

She noted that Salt Lake City is in the midst of a 9% downturn in crime across the city to date and a more than 16% downturn in the area where Backman Elementary is located.

“We want to make sure our children have all the public safety tools they need to get to and from school safely,” Brown said.

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Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announces the Salt Lake City Safe Passage Initiative during a press conference at Backman Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The police department worked with school resource officers to identify the three schools that will have an increased presence of officers walking, biking and patrolling the paths that students travel going to and from their respective schools.

Brown said that the initiative will include “highly visible, marked patrol officers” to serve as a deterrent for any crime in the areas and routes where students are walking.

The initiative also has an educational aspect from the police department focused on safe driving habits.

“Our children over here and (in) historically disenfranchised communities across the nation often are struck with the harsh realities of life earlier than others,” said Salt Lake City Councilwoman Victoria Petro-Eschler. “This good faith signal from the mayor and her administration means more than I can say so that our children here know that our history is not going to dictate our future, that your safety, your nurture, your education and your promise is acknowledged and protected, is huge to us.”

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Backman Elementary School Principal Matthew Teitter discusses the Salt Lake City Safe Passage Initiative during a press conference at Backman Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Backman Elementary School Principal Matthew Teitter said during summer school, students who walked along the Jordan River Parkway reported some encounters that were “upsetting,” and they can sometimes come across “unsettling situations” along their route.

“We’re situated on a busy road and we have the Jordan River right beside us and we want to make sure that students always feel safe when they’re walking along these busy roads with passing cars (and) bikes,” Teitter said. “We’re confident that the mayor and the Salt Lake City Police Department prioritize student safety above all and will help us achieve our goals of giving students the best educational experience possible and allow them to feel safe.”

Brown estimated that four to six officers will be on hand at each school.

“You start thinking about little kids that haven’t been to school for a couple years, I’m sure they’re scared and I’m hoping that they’ll see these friendly faces — these officers — and it’ll be a great time for everyone,” he said.

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Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown discusses the Salt Lake City Safe Passage Initiative during a press conference at Backman Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The initiative will last for two weeks and then happen again periodically “as we need to,” Brown said, noting that the department hopes to do it throughout the year.

Brown also said that he thinks it “would be a great goal” for the initiative to expand to include other schools.

“I would love to see businesses and community members joining us in these efforts too because these are their communities and they’re more than welcome to come with us and walk with the kids,” the police chief said. “It’s important to them that their kids feel safe and supported as they travel to and from school.”