Mention Pioneer Park to any Salt Lake police officer and you're likely to get the same kind of response.

"Drunks, transients, assaults, stabbings and strong-arm robberies" were the first words to pop into the mind of police spokesman Lt. Jim Bell.For law enforcement officers, Pioneer Park is a world of its own that they are forced to deal with every day.

The park is a natural congregating place for transients because it is sandwiched between the bus station, the Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, a railroad yard, a state liquor store and men's and women's shelters.

The word about Pioneer Park and its nearby amenities spreads among transients all over the country, making Salt Lake City a destination and a drawing point for many, Bell said.

Stan Gibson, a sergeant who patrols the park and the city's west side, said he has seen a great increase in the number of transients in Salt Lake City over the past 10 years.

The problem is not unique to Utah. More and more people fall into the transient and homeless categories every year.

And with this growing culture comes crime - and lots of it. But many of the laws that police enforce up the street don't have the same meaning inside the world of Pioneer Park.

Last weekend, officers were called to a cafe one block east of the park where one transient hit another with a pipe and knocked him out. While the victim was lying on the grass, three other transients who were drinking in the area started going through the man's pockets looking for money.

The only witness to the assault - another transient - told police he did not want to get involved. The victim said he did not want to prosecute. Although a suspect was eventually located and booked into jail, he will not likely remain there for long.

"Can the county attorney prosecute if the victim and the witness don't testify? And if (the suspect) gets out on bail, will we be able to find him again?" Gibson said.

Such aggravated assaults along with stabbings, robberies, rapes - even murders - are commonplace at Pioneer Park. Two people have been killed there in the past four months.

David S. Rainey, a transient, appeared for a preliminary hearing last week on charges that he killed Henry Hiawatha Provo in the park last August. Witnesses said they saw Rainey sit on top of Provo and slash his throat just as he was just waking up.

Prosecutor Greg Warner said he was lucky the witnesses, who are also transients, were still in town to testify about the murder nearly four months later. In order to be sure that one of the witnesses would still be around for the hearing, police housed him in the jail for a few days.

And at least partially because of witness problems, prosecutors have agreed to allow Rainey, charged with second-degree murder, to plead guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.

"Witnesses in general don't like to get involved, but with transients it's more magnified," Warner said. It's difficult to find such witnesses for questioning; there is no place to give subpoenas and no guarantee they will remain in the area.

Not all deaths in the park come at the hands of others. Booze is also a killer. Last July, a city parks employee found a man he thought was sleeping until he noticed flies coming out of the dead man's mouth.

Such is the world of Pioneer Park, and police officers are often frustrated about how to enforce laws and do their jobs there.

People drinking alcohol in the park is one example. In any other park, officers would write the offender a citation. But few transients are ever going to show up in court or pay such a fine. And the jail won't book anyone on a misdemeanor charge.

How about those who steal wood pallets from nearby businesses and burn them in order to keep warm? Business owners have a right to expect protection from theft, but can police morally arrest them for trying to stay warm?

"Do we go by the letter of the law or the spirit of the law? What does the public expect?" asked Gibson. "Do we kick them out of the park if that's their only place to stay?"

The solutions seem non-existent.

"We don't want anyone to think we (police) take this problem lightly," he said. "We aren't the ones who have the answers, but we are the ones who deal with the problems."