The view in downtown Salt Lake City is not entirely Christmas lights and planter boxes, bus stops and window displays. Depending on where you look, the landscape tells a different story.
Some corners and alleys are only a few steps off the street, but they are part of a world most people would not know, or care to inhabit. Not many people can step from the light to the dark and back again.Salt Lake Police foot patrolmen can.
"Your tour will take you from people that are incredibly wealthy to people who have nothing," said Sgt. Jim Jensen. "I love it."
Working out of a substation in the Crossroads Mall, Jensen and seven officers patrol the downtown area on foot, covering an area that runs roughly from South Temple to Fourth South and West Temple to Second East.
"It's very people-oriented," said Jensen, comparing the foot patrol with regular car patrol. "What you have when you're running around in your little steel cocoon is that 80 percent of the people you contact don't want to be in a position of dealing with you. Foot patrol is just the opposite."
The officers answer radio calls in the area, he said, and patrol cars are parked nearby if transportation is needed, but the business of the foot patrol is contact with people and active enforcement.
During the holiday season, a foot patrolman can reach a call faster than a patrol car in the downtown area. "We can beat a car by a long-shot," said Jensen.
The foot patrol's area is dense with traffic and businesses, but within the blocks there are dark cavities, strewn with broken glass, liquor bottles, trash and an occasional piece of clothing.
Runaway juveniles and transients are drawn to the empty buildings for shelter, said Jensen. Broken, barred windows, doors sealed with scrap metal and improvised bolts and creaking rusted fire escapes decorate the interior of some city blocks.
"You board up a building and likely as not it's broken into the next day," said Jensen.
Jensen contends runaway and criminal juveniles are a serious problem, not only for business owners and shoppers in the downtown area but for the teenagers themselves.
"One of our major problems down here is juvenile crime," said Jensen. "We get them from everywhere."
A runaway child, preyed on by "predator adults" and broke, is forced to commit crimes to survive. A father of five, Jensen has no easy answers for the tangled family problems that drive children onto the street. He does think the court system can break the chain of runaways and crime.
Aside from car prowls, shoplifting and strong-arm robbery, Jensen said runaways turn to "survival sex" for money and shelter and "nurturing sex" simply for physical contact with another person.
Contact with people downtown is what makes the foot patrolman go. Tagging along with Jensen for three hours is an exercise in short hops. He waves to shop keepers through their front windows, walks through bars smiling to the patrons and introduces himself to owners of small businesses.
He greets well-dressed businessmen and shabby transients with the same phrase, "How ya doing?" The 15-year veteran stopped and listened to a coffee shop owner complain angrily about what he believes is homosexual prostitution taking place on a downtown corner late at night.
Adopting a "stern policeman" demeanor, Jensen warned two young skateboarders not to ride in the business district. They trudged off with their skateboards under their arms, and he laughed.
"The foot patrol, to a large degree, has settled the problems downtown, but we have a ways to go."