Drugs targeted in Pioneer Park

658 arrested during intense 6-day sting

Published: Thursday, Nov. 15 2007 12:16 a.m. MST

Salt Lake police arrest a man near Pioneer Park. They teamed up with federal agents in a crackdown on drugs.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

Salt Lake City police teamed up with federal immigration and state corrections officials for six days last week in an intense effort to clean up the area around Pioneer Park.

The result was 658 people arrested in the area from State Street to 600 West and from North Temple to 600 South. Eighty-seven of those arrests were for investigation of drug distribution and 165 for investigation of people trying to buy drugs.

"This is not the place to participate in drug activity," was the message Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank had for those arrested and others thinking about conducting drug transactions around the park.

Burbank called the numbers big, especially considering that after the first or second day of the operation, word had spread among dealers that police were clamping down.

Since summer, Pioneer Park has become a focal point in the city's efforts to combat an ongoing drug problem. Law enforcers have been especially concerned about the skyrocketing resurgence in the popularity of crack cocaine.

Burbank stood with other city, county and state leaders Wednesday to announce the success of last week's operation. He noted the effort wouldn't have worked without the cooperation of all agencies involved.

Because of the weeklong sting, the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office had 100 new felony cases to prosecute, and the Salt Lake City Prosecutor's Office had more than 355 new cases, he said.

The operation went 20 hours each day. Some undercover officers posed as drug dealers and others as drug buyers. Even longtime officers were amazed at some of the stories they came across.

In one incident, a man offered to trade stolen new shirts from a local chain department store for drugs. The man lifted his coat, revealing that he was wearing a stack of new shirts underneath. Salt Lake City police detective Jeff Bedard said that, a few years ago, designer jeans were being stolen in high quantities as drug dealers were willing to trade crack for jeans.

Another incident showcased the potential for drug deals to go bad and how some solicitors needed help for their drug addictions. A dealer sold a man two kernels of Trix cereal, convincing him they were actually colored balloons with drugs inside, Bedard said.

Uniformed officers also did their normal patrols during the six days, conducting strict enforcement of various crimes such as trespassing, disorderly conduct and open alcohol containers.

Once an arrest was made, the offender was taken to the Salt Lake Police Department's Pioneer Precinct, near 1000 South and 700 West, where a special room was set up for immediate booking. Those arrested had mug shots and fingerprints taken. Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement had a table set up to deal with undocumented offenders, while Adult Probation and Parole had an agent on hand to deal with prisoners with outstanding warrants.

A total of 946 arrests were made citywide during the six-day period. More than 70 percent of all city arrests during that time period came from the targeted zone around Pioneer Park — an area that represented less than 1 percent of the city, according to police.

The drug arrests during those six days represented 8 percent to 10 percent of the drug arrests for the city for the entire year, Burbank said.

What made this operation more successful than others, however, was having the additional presence of AP&P and ICE. Nearly 180 of the people arrested already had outstanding warrants, according to police statistics.

A total of 68 people had federal holds placed on them for being undocumented aliens. The majority of people arrested already had been arrested in other states for drug-related offenses, and most had been in Utah less than four years, Burbank said.

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