Salt Lake City police officials announced Thursday that they believe they have helped stop an uptick of violent crime and property crimes in Utah’s capital city through a partnership with federal law enforcement aimed at putting repeat offenders in federal prison.
The goal, they say, is to arrest people caught with drugs or guns and prosecute them in the federal system, rather than at the state level. There is no federal prison in Utah, so that often means someone will be shipped out-of-state to serve a longer sentence.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said Thursday that since the partnership was announced in January, nearly 100 people have been charged with serious federal crimes.
“This targeted approach is working,” she said. “When this effort was announced at the beginning of the year, we were experiencing an uptick in violent and property crimes in Salt Lake City. We were hearing from residents whose neighborhoods and businesses were struggling due to criminal activity being committed by apex criminals preying upon those who have been historically disadvantaged.”
Of the 97 people arrested, 50 face charges of illegally possessing a firearm, according to acting U.S. Attorney for Utah Andrea Martinez. Twenty-two have been charged with drug trafficking. Those who have been convicted have received an average sentence of 33 months in federal prison.
The program has resulted in seized 84 guns, 22 of which were stolen.
“We know that the vast majority of violent crime is committed by a select few individuals,” said Brad Engelbert, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Assistant Special Agent in Charge. “This effort allows us to target those individuals and take them off the streets.”
Salt Lake City police chief Mike Brown emphasized that 29 of those charged were already on probation or parole — nearly 30%. He said it’s hard to quantify how much crime has been prevented through this work, but officials noted that the uptick in crime they saw at the beginning of the year is starting to fall.
Bringing in federal police to help lower crime and bring those cases into the federal court system was used recently in Ogden. Then-U.S. Attorney John Huber said that because of it, crime is down in the city significantly.
Advocates for criminal justice reform have been critical of the tactic of pushing the cases to the federal system, saying that it results in over-incarceration that is inherently unfair. Those who are prosecuted in the federal system face a hefty sentence compared to those whose cases remain in the state courts. Critics also say this approach could scoop up more minor criminals who should not be receiving such harsh sentences.
When Salt Lake City officials announced their new partnership in January, data showed that violent crime increased 21% through 2020 compared to the year before, and was up more than 9% when compared to the five-year average. Property crimes were also up compared to 2019, but had decreased by nearly 3% compared to the five-year average.
Mendenhall said the numbers are still higher than average, but have been decreasing since the effort began.