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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Salt Lake County Sheriff's deputies transport arrested persons in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. Arrested suspects were transported to the county jail or to a temporary receiving center, where medical experts will screen them for possible referral to appropriate behavioral health services.

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake and Unified police officers conducted phase three of Operation Diversion on Friday, aimed at finding a solution to the homeless and drug problems that have overwhelmed the Rio Grande District.

Forty-three people were picked up during Friday's operation, according to Salt Lake police. Of those, four were taken directly to jail, one went to the hospital and 38 were taken to a receiving center in a building near the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building.

Once in the receiving center, as in the prior two operations, people were offered blankets and food, and they were given access to a number of services — including legal help, drug treatment and mental health services. In the past, it has taken up to four months for a person to get help from those groups, according to city officials.

Once a person in the treatment center is advised of their options, they are given the choice of going to treatment or jail. On Friday, 23 chose treatment and 15 opted for jail, according to police.

After three phases of the operation, 113 people have been taken to the receiving center and 17 directly to jail, with two going to local hospitals for undisclosed conditions. Nearly 70 percent — or 68 people — taken to the receiving center chose treatment over jail, according to Salt Lake police.

Of those who opted for treatment over jail, 41, or 60 percent, were still in treatment and had not walked away from their rehabilitation facility as of Monday, according to police. But Salt Lake County officials Monday said those numbers were still preliminary and final numbers may be different.

City and county leaders are avoiding words like "sweep," "roundup" or "occupation" to describe the effort. Rather, Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown has compared it to a true operation, saying officers have "surgically" or strategically identified those who need help and those in the area only to prey on the addictions of others, while collecting intelligence information and using undercover officers.

Operation Diversion involves $1.2 million from Salt Lake County and $150,000 from the city to fund drug treatment for about 150 people for six months and at least 18 months of criminal prosecutions.

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