SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Operation: Rio Grande is just 24 hours old, but business owners and residents in the area said Tuesday – the difference is noticeable.
“Pioneer Park is the most usable it’s been in three years,” said Thea Weaver, who walks her dog everyday at the park, normally teeming with Salt Lake’s homeless population.
Tony Caputo, owner of Caputo’s Market and Deli on 300 South said he was encouraged by what Pioneer Park looked like Tuesday morning. He said he’s seen operations like this before, but now that the state is getting involved, he’s confident it will be more successful.
“Somebody with a little bit deeper pockets than Salt Lake has to fund this thing,” said Caputo.
Salt Lake City Police Department has been aided by Unified Police and Utah Highway Patrol to try to root out drug dealers that prey on the homeless, officials said. The operation began around 10 a.m. Monday. It’s a years-long process that has entered its first phase. There have been arrests, though it’s unknown how many. Police said they are also working to get those with addictions to treatment.
Trooper Lawrence Hopper rode around 500 West Tuesday morning responding to medical calls. ABC4 was there as he rolled up on two people shooting up in their backseat. The man who was arrested said he had a pain pill addiction and he shoots up because he can’t get a prescription.
“A lot of people are angry with us,” said Hopper. “But it’s because they don’t understand why we are here.”
Police said the operation is not a “sweep” or a “crackdown” as it’s been characterized. The goal is to get the addicted the help they need and the dealers off the streets. They hope Operation: Rio Grande will cut down on crime.
In July, there were three homicides in the neighborhood involving the homeless population.
Not everyone is happy with the way the operation is going down. Bernie Hart with Understanding Us, a non-profit that works to rehabilitate the homeless and drug-addicted in this area, said non-criminals aren’t being treated fairly.
“They don’t have any faith in the system,” said Hart of the homeless population he works with. “They don’t see anything positive coming out of this. He suggested the notion that the addicted in this area will proactively seek treatment is too idealistic. Many, he said, will end up back on the street.
Phase I of Operation: Rio Grande is expected to continue for the next few weeks. It’s part of a massive two-year initiative to clean up an area that has long been overrun by crime.