Police tout reduction in drug crimes at Rio Grande area, but problem has shifted

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) – Salt Lake City Police and Utah Highway Patrol said the amount of drugs in the Rio Grande area of downtown Salt Lake City has decreased, but the problem has shifted to other areas. 

It’s been one year since Operation: Rio Grande, a multi-agency effort to rehabilitate the addicted and homeless population in downtown Salt Lake City, began. 

Drug dealers who prey upon these people have moved their business to other locations, police told News4Utah Tuesday.

North Temple has seen an increase in criminal activity, said Sgt. Andrew Cluff with Salt Lake City Police. Cluff said that’s why there is a big focus to crack down on crime in the area surrounding the Rio Grande district. 

“The more reports that are coming from specific parts of the city, the more we know that that’s where the issues are, and we can direct our resources to that,” said Cluff, who has helped patrol Rio Grande and the surrounding area for the first year of the operation.

To the casual visitor, there may not be much of a visible difference in the population size. Police who work the area every day, though, say it has improved. 

“Hardened, hardened criminals,” said Trooper Jonathan Watson, “We’ve been able to get most of them out.”

Where scores of transients used to congregate, there is now a safe space where new “residents” can come and get an identification card, check in with authorities, and tell them what help they need; whether it be housing, help for addiction or other issues. 

“I’m really hoping we can get help for the people who want to get help,” said Trooper Jonathan Watson, who patrols the area daily. “Whether it’s dealing with addictions…getting proper medications…or just people who are down on their luck getting them back into housing.”

Watson said he volunteered for this assignment when it began. Throughout the year, he said he’s seen triumph and tragedy. 

He said contact with law enforcement has helped some people get pointed to important life-saving resources. Others, he said, he’s found dead from overdose. 

Watson said police and troopers have to very carefully consider the consequences of incarcerating certain people, versus helping them get addiction recovery aid. 

“In every scenario you get put into down here, you have to think about the bigger picture,” said Watson. 

While results about whether drug courts and treatment programs were working have been mixed, Watson says he believes a year from now Rio Grande will be much less populated. 

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