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S.L. police to establish a Metro Support Bureau to better fight crime in Pioneer Park

Published: Tuesday, May 20 2014 8:06 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake police officers Bradley Shupe, left, and Nate Swensen talk while patrolling at Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In an effort to better match resources for demand for service, the Salt Lake City Police Department will launch a Metro Support Bureau.

The bureau, to be housed in donated space in the Pioneer Park area, will have its own chain of command with officers dedicated to addressing crime and community policing in the core downtown area.

Burbank, while addressing the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday, said about one-third of the crime that occurs in the city takes place in the area from North Temple to 700 South and from I-15 to State Street. About 18 percent of the department's service calls originate from that area.

“A good portion of what we do is in and around that area,” Burbank said, explaining that a significant number of officers are already devoted to the area.

Officers assigned to the new support bureau will work under a single command led by Lt. Fred Ross, soon to be promoted to deputy chief.

"It doesn’t represent a lot more officers. It's officers dedicated for this purpose," Burbank said.

Officers from several divisions will be assigned to the bureau, including detectives, narcotics officers, bicycle officers and traffic cops.

Salt Lake police have been under growing pressure from business interests in the area and the Pioneer Park Coalition to do more to address crime, particularly drug trafficking and violent crime.

Burbank said conditions in the Pioneer Park/Depot District are symptomatic of larger societal problems. The department will do its part through this directed enforcement effort, he said, but other community partners have to be part of the solution.

Some members of the City Council questioned whether the intensive enforcement efforts of the new bureau would push crime elsewhere.

Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall, whose District 7 council area includes Liberty Park, sought assurances from Burbank that police would take "a proactive approach" to address criminal activity that may migrate to other parts of the city.

"It's our concern as well," Burbank said.

While officers assigned to the Metro Support Bureau will have a dedicated purpose, the department's resources are "scalable and flexible" to address needs as they arise, Burbank said.

Councilman Luke Garrott, whose District 4 includes Pioneer Park and the Depot District, said he has spent considerable time wringing his hands over how to address issues in the area.

"I’m a little worried about expectations being lifted to the point we can’t follow through," Garrott said.

Burbank said the police department is committed to effective enforcement of drug trafficking and curbing violent crime. Some of the heroin sold in the park has been traced to international drug cartels, he said. The drug is often sought by people who have become addicted to opiate-based prescription painkillers.

"I think we need to address it. At this point, we need to have an impact," Burbank said.

Aside from the police department's efforts, the community needs to address the drug problem by funding more drug treatment beds and increased use of drug courts, he said.

While Catholic Community Services operates a day center in the area, there is a need for more day services to help vulnerable homeless individuals and families. Some people spend their days waiting outside with their belongings until they are allowed to enter shelters in the evenings, Burbank said.

Councilwoman Lisa Adams reminded her colleagues that funding a day center was her top budget priority this year, but the proposal received little support.

"I'm giving a pitch for 2015," she said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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