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Cleaning Up "the Block"

Authorities place bets on Operation Rio Grande

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Scenes like the above are commonplace around the downtown shelter’s perimeter. - STEVEN VARGO
  • Steven Vargo
  • Scenes like the above are commonplace around the downtown shelter’s perimeter.


Rio Grande, once a haven for drug dealers, this week is teaming with police as part of Operation Rio Grande, an effort to rid the area around the Road Home shelter of criminal activity.


Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires reported on Tuesday that 160 officers were deployed to Rio Grande leading to 87 arrests. Of those, 33 detainees were released.


In addition to locking up drug pushers, the plan relies on cutting down barriers to treatment for those in need. Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown noted that social workers walked with police to identify homeless folks who need services.


“For many years we have said, the police we’ve been used as a Swiss army knife of social work, and it’s just something we can’t do. It’s very nice to be accompanied into these situations by the social workers,” he said.


Brown said 25 individuals were offered resources, and another 60 went to the Community Connection Center to ask for help.


Operation Rio Grande is a joint mission involving city, state and county resources. It is a short-term plan to address violence and criminality on “the Block” while the city and county prepare to close down the homeless shelter by the summer of 2019. The nonprofit Shelter the Homeless Inc. will operate three smaller shelters in the future, two in Salt Lake City and one in South Salt Lake.


Squires said law enforcement targeted suspected traffickers, some of whom police have connected to cartels. Once the criminal element is rooted out, he added, fewer officers will be needed to maintain safety.


Dealers who escaped to other jurisdictions will be followed, Brown said. “We know where they went.”


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