Practically anyone who has lived in Salt Lake City even a brief time knows Pioneer Park is a place where illegal drugs are sold.
The dealers know it. The buyers know. Even people who don't do drugs know of the park's drug-filled reputation. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank also know, and say it's time for it to end.
Friday, Anderson and Burbank stood together on the east stairs of the Salt Lake City-County building to announce what the mayor called a "major campaign" in the fight against drugs.
The effort, called "kNOw MORE" will be a three-pronged approach: education, enforcement, and support and treatment. As for the enforcement part, Anderson said city officers will now be heavily targeting people who are buying drugs, taking a "zero tolerance" approach.
"It's very likely that you will be busted," was the message Anderson had to illegal drug buyers in the city. "We will come down on you like a ton of bricks."
Specifically, Anderson said the first part of the plan will be to focus heavily on Pioneer Park, and "dry up the demand for illegal substances."
"Once you dry up the demand, the supply disappears," Anderson said.
Burbank said Pioneer Park has been a drug problem as long as anyone can remember. In the past six months alone, the chief said there had been 400 arrests in the area around the park. What concerns Burbank the most is the comfort level that buyers and sellers seem to have in the park. He noted one incident in which a man was arrested for selling drugs, given a citation and released, and then walked right around the corner and started doing it again.
Drugs fuel the majority of all crimes that happen in Salt Lake, Burbank said, including theft, burglary, home invasion, armed robbery and ID theft. The city plans to get tough on drug buyers by placing undercover officers posing as dealers in the park, adding additional bicycle cops in the area and by enhancing all crimes in the areas near a public park, school or church from a class B to a class A misdemeanor.
Once it gets to a point that the drug buyers and sellers are scared out of the park and move to a different area of the city, Burbank said detectives will move right along with them and focus on that area.
But Burbank also knows, "We cannot arrest our way out of this problem."
That's why the city is also launching a new educational campaign and beefing up its support services. Salt Lake County, including the jail and Sheriff Jim Winder, have been advised of the city's new plan to prepare them for what is expected to be a sudden increase of drug-related arrests. Burbank hopes rehab and drug court programs will have resources ready to deal with an influx of drug-related arrests.
The mayor is also putting a refocused effort on 2-1-1, a support system that has been available since 1978. People who need help finding local resources for their drug addiction can call 2-1-1 for help. The city also wants residents to remember its nearly decade-old Tips for Cash hotline at 799-INFO.
Although police say the crack problem is significantly increasing, Anderson noted that its not just people at Pioneer Park who are creating the city's drug problem.
"We have the greatest problem with prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs in the country," he said.Juveniles are raiding their parents' medicine cabinets to get drugs, Anderson said. People, including many juveniles, are suffering overdose deaths in all parts of the city regardless of income, race, religion or social status, authorities said.