SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Not all Utah Highway patrol Officers are on the highway. For example, some provide security at the State Capitol and since operation Rio Grande started, some other troopers have a different type of duty.
Agent Christopher Chin wears a UHP badge and drives a UHP cruiser but you won’t find him on the interstate giving out tickets. Instead, he’s patrolling the sidewalks and giving out help.
“How you doin’ boss?” he asked a man during a recent patrol.
While some may refer to the people along Rio Grande Street as “the homeless”, Agent Chin knows them by their names or at least their street names, like this man who goes by the name “Sunday”.
“We get to know people’s names,” Agent Chin said. “We’d be walking down the street and we’d catch up right where we left off the last week. ‘Hey did you get your license taken care of? Did you meet with that housing manager?’…Even if it’s somebody I haven’t met before, I always try to approach it like it’s a brand new situation and ‘What can I do to help them’. Even if it’s just walking by and saying ‘Hey what’s up? How ya doin?’.”
Agent Chin is from the nearby Glendale neighborhood and grew up on these streets. Two years ago the East High School graduate left a career in the wireless communications industry to join the UHP Community Engagement and Outreach Team. He spends his days in the Rio Grande area, Pioneer Park, and near the new homeless resource centers, checking on these men and women and offering the medical, legal, employment, and housing help they need.
“We can get you a place man. I hate seein’ you out here,” he tells one man.” I know I’ve talked to you about it before but you know I’m going to offer it every time.”
“We don’t normally on the freeway get a chance to pull someone over and say ‘Hey. How are you doin? How’s your day?’ Right?” Agent Chin explained. “That’s what’s been different down here since we would do our foot patrol or go to various community meetings we had a huge opportunity to actually connect with these individuals on a non-enforcement basis and I think that’s really what made us successful is that we were able to build that kind of a relationship.”
Agent Chin tells Behind the Badge there are big successes like getting a person off the streets with a job and an apartment and small ones like just a brief positive interaction, which may be the only one they have all day.
“You’re one of the good ones,” a man told Agent Chin. “There ain’t too many of ya’ll but you one of the good ones.”
“These people are individuals. They’re people,” Agent Chin said. “Simply saying hello to ’em or simply hearing them out for 5 or 10 minutes. It really is impactful and seeing that individual as a person and not as like you were saying, ‘That’s homelessness’. No that’s an individual who’s in a different situation, right now experiencing homelessness. They are still a person and they still are worth your time…Whatever I can do or whatever our team can do to help those individuals kind of get past this phase in life, get on to the next step, that’s extremely rewarding for me.”
Toward the end of his patrol this day one of the men challenges Agent Chin…to a footrace.
“I don’t know if I can do it with all this on,” he says. The man responds with a laugh.
“Hey you take care of yourself,” the man says.
“You take care too,” Agent Chin answers as he walks away.
Agent Chin says the Community Outreach Team is branching out to different locations such as the new Switchpoint Resource Center in Tooele.