On the first day as the new and bigger South Salt Lake, dozens of new police officers, police dispatchers and firefighters showed up for work, ready to respond to residents in need.
Fortunately, there wasn't much demand for their services, even though the city added 70 percent more residents. Only a smattering of calls came in from those in the newly annexed portion of the city between 3300 South and 3900 South and from 700 East to the Jordan River.As one dispatcher described it early Thursday morning, "It was uneventful."
But that may not last for long. The newly incorporated area - a demographic mix of single-family homes, apartment complexes and industry - is historically a "busy" crime area, Salt Lake County deputy sheriff Peggy Faulkner said.
According to county records, between Sept. 1, 1997, and 1998, deputies fielded more than 11,500 calls for service there, not including traffic stops. Among the cases were 496 thefts, 430 vehicle burglaries, 384 assaults, 209 auto thefts, and 297 acts of domestic violence.
Of the more violent crimes, there were 40 rapes, 48 sexual assaults and two drive-by shootings, but no homicides.
South Salt Lake, however, is ready for the challenge.
"We know it's a busy area," South Salt Lake Police Capt. Beau Babka said. "As far as calls, we anticipate going from something like 40,000 calls a year to 60,000. But we think we'll manage it quite nicely."
To do so, the city has added 17 new police officers and three dispatchers.
Additionally, Fire Chief Steve Foote has hired 10 new fire-fighters and purchased a new ladder truck and other equipment. For the time being, the fire department will continue to work out of its existing stations at 2350 S. 900 West and at 2600 S. Main. The city hopes to negotiate a shared station with the county at 3600 S. West Temple and may later build a new station, Foote said.
To manage crime, police plan to implement a community policing philosophy. The same approach in 1996 and 1997 produced a significant drop in the original city's crime rate, Babka said.
Measured on a scale of crimes per thousand residents, crime in South Salt Lake dropped from a rate of 271 to 213 crimes, with significant reductions in the number of aggravated assaults, burglaries and larcenies.
By definition, community policing means establishing a partnership between the police department and its neighborhoods. South Salt Lake, for example, is divided into community quadrants, with specific patrol officers and detectives assigned to those areas.
Officers get to know the people and businesses of each area and develop an understanding as to community concerns and the typical kinds of criminal activity. In turn, neighbors and businesses get to know the police and help them do their job, establishing community councils and keeping a watchful eye on neighborhood activities.
The new city area has already been divided into quadrants, and at least five officers will be on duty in those areas during each 10-hour shift, with some shifts overlapping to double the effort. Additionally, the city is placing resource officers in Granite High School.
"We're excited," Babka said. "I think in terms of the area, we know pretty much what to expect because we've always crossed over down there to work with Salt Lake County. And we know from talking to a lot of people (in the new area) that what they want is for their police force to be more visible. I think we will be."
That kind of visibility is one of many things organizers talked about during the months they collected signatures to push annexation, Mary Scott said.
In the last few years, the apartment complex behind Scott's Wendell Drive home has seen one homicide, two attempted homicides, a suicide and "I don't know how many fights," she said. And while her own interaction with county sheriff's deputies has been positive (her daughter's car was vandalized), she likes the ideas behind community policing.
"It will be like having your `own' officer," said Scott, who plans to help organize community councils in the annexed area. "He'll be visible, you'll have a pager number. I think that will make an extreme amount of difference."
It has in Jolene Visser's neighborhood.
An active member of the Southgate Community Council for the past five years, Visser said she has seen the differences firsthand.
"Because we're working together it gives (the police) a better idea of what's really going on out there and citizens a different attitude about the police," she said. "We've ac-complished a lot in South Salt Lake. We've been very successful shutting down drug houses and cleaned up a lot of areas, and we're still doing it, and it's because of community policing."
A primary goal from the annexation for both police and fire departments will be to maintain the current level of services in the city's original neighborhoods.
Both departments say the city is well prepared to do just that, but admittedly there may be something of a balancing act during the first few months, Babka said.
Visser doesn't seem concerned.
"I think most people have a lot of confidence in our departments, that our services won't change," she said.
As long as police keep focused on their plan, Babka predicts few problem areas for integrating the new and old areas of the city and taking care of South Salt Lake residents.
"We feel confident in our strategies," Babka said. "Community policing has been very successful for us, and we pride ourselves on that. I think we've been a model for community policing, and if we stick to that philosophy in the new area, we'll be OK. If we vary from it, then it could go wrong."