SALT LAKE CITY— Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank discusses the goals of the department’s new Metro Support Bureau — announced last month to address downtown public safety issues— in the latest “Chief’s Message” released today.
The Metro Support Bureau is designed to be flexible and scalable in response to the primary public safety issue facing the city. The bureau’s first mission: tackling criminal activity in the area from North Temple to 700 South, Interstate 15 to State Street. Department statistics show that a significant percentage of police service requests originate in the area—due in no small part to drug buyers and sellers concealing their criminal activity among homeless individuals who seek assistance from social service providers headquartered there.
“About 25 percent of the problem is ours [law enforcement],” Burbank says in the video, noting, “what we need to work on is separating those individuals that are committing crimes in the area from those individuals who live, work and play in the area – and that includes our homeless population. Because I think the mistake that’s made is that people view the drug problem as a homeless problem.
“Absolutely there are individuals who suffer from homelessness because of their drug and alcohol addiction. But interestingly enough, when we do operations in the area, and we focus on those people buying narcotics, the majority of those people are coming from outside of Salt Lake City and coming into the city to purchase drugs.”
Joining Burbank is Babs De Lay, whose home and business, Urban Utah Homes & Estates, are both located within the new Metro Support Bureau’s service area. Videotaped inside her office, she talks about the fact that she and her employees see criminal activity on their doorstep every day.
“It’s frightening for people to go out at night; they’re being accosted all the time,” she says. “We witnessed a terrible assault down here just a couple of weeks ago, just outside the [office] window.”
Rather than take a zero tolerance approach that may negatively affect everyone, Burbank assures De Lay that the new bureau will focus on criminal behavior: “Our goal is to really focus on those individuals that are committing crime, and then …provide an avenue that those individuals suffering from homelessness, that need outreach, that need help, have access to service providers without the negative consequences of being held hostage by criminals in the area that are taking advantage of them.”
Burbank says the Metro Support Bureau will be staffed with a variety of officers under a single chain of command. They will do what they do best, he says, noting, “we want a motor officer to do motor enforcement, we want a gang officer to do gang enforcement, especially as it pertains to some of the cartel issues we have in the area. So we’re looking for expertise in the area, and then we’re going to commit to stay in the area.”
In closing, Chief Burbank says the police department can and should do more than just order maintenance: “The well-being of any of our neighborhoods, whether that’s strictly criminal activity, or whether it’s just disorder that makes people feel uncomfortable, is the concern of the police department. And we will continue to work in this area,” he says, “… and, I promise you, over the next month, you will see a dramatic change in the police response and the number of resources that we have in the area.”
Thank you to Babs De Lay of Urban Utah Homes & Estates for hosting the Chief’s Message this month.
About the “Chief’s Message”
Chief Burbank issues a monthly video message to help the public reduce its exposure to, or mitigate the effects of, crime, as well as spotlight different parts of the city’s public safety team. All “Chief’s Messages” are archived on the newsroom page of slcpd.com and the Chief’s Monthly Messages playlist of youtube.com/slcpd.