Crime in Salt Lake City | Operation Rio Grande | Part 2
By Abby Warr and David Garbett
Last month the Pioneer Park Coalition blogged about select crime data for Salt Lake City to see what that might tell us about the effect, if any, of Operation Rio Grande. That post generated plenty of discussions and questions. We thought that some of those questions deserved a second post; this is our follow up.
First, a quick recap.
In our earlier blog we reviewed on our city’s crime rates from 2013 through 2017 for select neighborhoods. We focused on activities that Operation Rio Grande was intended to address. While this crime data cannot answer definitively what is causing or reducing crime, it can at least give us some clues about trends and likely impacts. The good news is that overall crime rates in the city are down, rates in the Pioneer Park/Rio Grande area are way down, and we did not detect any significant crime dispersal. Here is our helpful graphic:
Some people wondered how we chose these neighborhoods. We selected them based on where we heard Operation Rio Grande may have pushed crime. Namely, the North Temple corridor (“Fairpark” and “Rose Park” on the graphic), Sugar House, Ball Park, Central City, the Avenues, and the Liberty Park area (“Liberty-Wells” and “Central City/Liberty Wells”). Of course, we also wanted to know what happened in our area (“Downtown”).
Overall, the data paints a positive picture but not everything is roses. We did not see commensurate crime drops in the Liberty-Wells area—though the levels after Operation Rio Grande were still within their rates for the 2013-2017 period—we also wrote about some troubling upticks in reported rapes.
Second, yes, crime really is down in Salt Lake.
While we wrote that crime had dropped in Salt Lake City, some people still wondered whether this was the case. To be clear, overall crimes in Salt Lake City are down, and down significantly—as low as they have been in the five-year period we analyzed. To reinforce this point, we have reproduced aggregate crime data for the city as a whole—of those crimes likely related to Operation Rio Grande—and updated it through March of 2018 in this graphic below:
Third, what is happening in the rest of Salt Lake City’s neighborhoods?
We have talked about the forest, but what about specific trees? Many people wanted to know what was happening in the city neighborhoods our first post did not address. We apologize if you felt left out by this; it was not our intent to ignore neighborhoods. We were trying to focus on what we thought might be the hot spots. To address this, we ran the numbers for the remaining Salt Lake neighborhoods from January of 2013 through the end of 2017 to get an apples-to-apples comparison. Here are those neighborhoods—along with the Pioneer Park/Rio Grande area, listed as “Downtown,” for context:
And since there is so much going on in the graphic above, here is a version with the “Downtown” area removed:
There are a few takeaways from this mixed picture. Crime rates in the remaining neighborhoods are still dwarfed by crime in the area that includes the Pioneer Park/Rio Grande area. In addition, our first analysis caught the three most problematic areas for crime in the aggregate: Sugar House, Central City, and Ball Park.
But a lower level of crime does not mean no crime. Some of the remaining Salt Lake City neighborhoods did not see crime drop after Operation Rio Grande. Perhaps the most troubling is Poplar Grove. Crime there at the end of 2017 was as bad as at any time in the five-year period we analyzed. While some of the other neighborhoods see-sawed—as is typical—after Operation Rio Grande and may have even seen crime rates increase, none of them ended 2017 at, or tied for, a five-year peak.
Though Operation Rio Grande did not push crime rates in any neighborhood above historic rates in our five-year analysis, there was not a commensurate drop throughout the entire city. It is understandable that some neighborhoods are feeling consternation about current trends.
Fourth, did Operation Rio Grande push the homeless out?
We don’t know. Neither our first blog post nor this post attempts to address the question of whether Operation Rio Grande chased people experiencing homelessness out of the Pioneer Park/Rio Grande neighborhood. We do not discount this possibility; it would be nice to know this and we hope that it has not. But we have not found a satisfactory way to measure and analyze this question. Because of common pitfalls related to human observation (i.e. we see more of the things we focus on, even though the number of those things has not changed) we lack high confidence in much of the information out there.
There probably has been some dispersal. We have heard from residents throughout the city that they are seeing more people clearly experiencing homelessness. We have also heard this from some homeless outreach teams and first responders.
On the flip side, homeless services providers in the Pioneer Park/Rio Grande neighborhood are reporting that they have not seen any appreciable drop in clients, post-Operation Rio Grande. It is hard to understand how these numbers have remained stable if people needing services have left the area.
Operation Rio Grande has had a significant, positive impact on crime in Salt Lake City and the Pioneer Park/Rio Grande area. There is still work to be done, however, here and throughout the city. Poplar Grove would be a good place to start.
 Specifically, we analyzed both serious crime (aggravated assault, burglary, rape/sexual assault, homicide, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and robbery) and non-serious crime (curfew/loitering, disorderly conduct, drug abuse, stolen property, vandalism, and drunkenness). We passed on crimes such as embezzlement, forgery, etc. because we felt they were less likely to be connected with the problematic behavior in the Rio Grande area and wanted our story to be more precise. Our data was collected from https://dotnet.slcgov.com/police/crimestatistics#/chartpresentation in February 2018 for the first blog post and April 2018 for this blog post.