Mayor Marcus Stevenson's Message (November 2023)
A Look into Public Safety
Within the last few weeks, I was able to participate in a ride-along with both Unified Fire Authority (UFA) and Unified Police Department (UPD). While both experiences were quite different, it was eye-opening to see a small glimpse into the day-to-day of their jobs and all the situations they must be prepared to respond to. For each ride-along, I chose a Friday evening, because we seem to see greater activity on the weekends, specifically at night. Here’s just a glimpse of what I saw and what I learned.
I arrived at Station #126 at 2:00PM, which is the station near the intersection of 700 E and 7200 S. Because our fire fighters work 48-hour shifts, this was the last day of the crew’s shift, and they would be going home the next morning. As I arrived, I had to wait a few minutes because the crew was out on a call dealing with a flooding issue at a big box store in the area – pipes in the ceiling were leaking, and UFA was called in to figure out how to shut off the water and clear the area as necessary.
Once the crew arrived back at the station, we talked for a while about expectations for the night and the plan if the night was slow. Unlike police, fire doesn’t actively patrol, so they wait for calls to come in, but plan their days to stay busy regardless of the call volume. Their plan that evening included medical training, exercise, dinner, going to the Hillcrest High football game, and cleaning the station in preparation for the next crew coming on shift in the morning.
In Midvale, because of the 911 call volume we receive, our two fire-stations are staffed with 6 people. The firetrucks are 4-handed crews, meaning there are 4 people on each truck, and then there is an ambulance crew of 2 people. This is important because when a structure fire does happen, they implement a “two in, two out” rule, where two firefighters go in the building at one time and two stay out. This gives the firefighters greater safety in case something goes wrong on a call. Having two paramedics means that for medical calls they can do more life-saving work on scene before a patient makes it to the hospital and allows the firetruck and ambulance to respond to different calls if necessary.
Our first call came in as a “miscellaneous fire.” In the station, an alarm goes off and a robotic voice comes over an intercom system that states what type of call, the location, and some other details. While I felt anxious, the crew was simultaneously calm while moving quickly to get their gear on and get out of the station. For this call, it was someone burning their yard waste after doing an extensive yard clean up. With no fire containment set up, and dry grass all around, the situation could have turned badly, but luckily it hadn’t. The crew’s captain spoke with the homeowner, educated them on the law (you’re not allowed to burn yard waste in Salt Lake County), and spoke to them about why it was unsafe. The captain was forceful in tone, but also understanding that not everyone is going to know every law. The homeowner was receptive and agreed to stop.
Our second call was reported as an overdose near The Shops at Fort Union. When we arrived, there was a gentleman lying in a grassy area, and the paramedics were ready to go. However, as they approached the man, he woke up and it became clear that he was likely someone experiencing homelessness, who was sleeping in that area. To say the least, he looked pretty surprised to have several people standing around him with a firetruck, ambulance, and a police vehicle all with lights on. The crew spoke to the man for a few minutes and determined he wasn’t in need of medical attention.
The third call was a minor car crash on 7200 S. While just a small fender bender, a woman involved in the crash was complaining of back and neck pain. While she didn’t speak any English, the captain of the crew spoke Spanish and was able to communicate with her about what she was feeling and how the crew could help. They did some basic tests, offered her a ride to the hospital, but recommended that she could likely get herself to urgent care if she wanted to.
That evening, I left around 10PM so the crew could get some rest. With only three calls in eight hours, it was a pretty slow night. However, it was fascinating to see all the different types of calls they need to know how to respond to – anything from flooding to fires, and overdoses to car crashes, all in one day. Plus, I really appreciated seeing the work they do to build a connection with the community, which included spending some time at the Hillcrest High football game that evening. Thank you to Captain Pate at #126 for taking me along, I tried to stay out of the way while learning everything I could!
Unfortunately, we’ve seen more challenges around the 7200 S / I-15 area with drug trafficking, specifically fentanyl, meth, and heroin. For the last few years, our police chief has requested a new sergeant to oversee the Direct Enforcement Unit, which is focused on getting large amounts of hard drugs off our streets. This year, we finally approved this request, turning a two-member unit into a three-member, and I was able to ride with our new sergeant. Unlike most of our officers, who respond to 911 calls, this group proactively goes out and conducts long-term investigations focused on large amounts of narcotics in our city.
For this shift, I met the unit at our police precinct at 4:00PM and would be with them until about 2:00AM. They started by talking about the shift and the most recent intel on the people they were looking for. One unique thing about this unit is that they all drive unmarked vehicles – meaning they look like regular cars. And I’ll say this, you may not always see police vehicles, but they are around, and they’re doing work to apprehend the worst offenders.
On this evening, the unit was focused on the areas around the several low-cost motels along 7200 S. It felt like a whole other world. I drive down 7200 S every day, and I’ll see interesting people or sometimes odd things, but spending 10 hours in this area, watching, waiting, and talking with folks, gave me a whole other view, almost like zooming into the issues we see.
Here are my greatest takeaways of my time with this unit:
- While we have people in those areas using drugs, that’s not the focus of our officers, and it shouldn’t be. Our State doesn’t have enough resources to arrest all the drug users and get them into the help they need, so arresting them often means they’ll go to jail, but quickly be out and back on the street, doing it all over again. It doesn’t fix the problem and costs us more as taxpayers. Our officers know this too, which is why they're focused on catching the individuals who are selling.
- Just because someone looks sketchy, or that they’re up to no good, doesn’t actually mean that’s the case, and we can’t arrest people for just existing in an area. I bring this up, because I know our community often feels frustrated that we have so many characters in the 7200 S area. Our cops can’t just arrest someone because of the way they look, and again they’d likely end up back here anyway because of the low-cost hotels.
- If a cop wants to talk to you, they’ll find a way. Now, talk doesn’t necessarily mean search, arrest, or seize anything from you, but as they’re trying to find information on the big targets, and they see someone they want to talk to, they’ll patiently wait for you to make a mistake – jay-walking, not using a blinker, etc., so they can gather more information to get to their real goal.
- Lastly, even as we pulled someone over who was a known fentanyl dealer in the area or spoke with a woman who admitted to being addicted to meth, but was looking to get help, they treated everyone with respect. I was surprised by the amount of conversation I had with the sergeant about how we both have family members who have struggled with substance use disorders, and how the goal was to get the users help, while putting away the dealers. And because we often have the same people coming back to this area, they knew many of the individuals on a first-name basis because of how often they’ve interacted.
For my ride with Unified Police, I’ll keep it to that, as I don’t want to compromise any of their work, or the individuals they work with. For our community, remember, that even if you don’t see police in these areas, it doesn’t mean that’s the case, and the city is investing a lot of time and money in addressing drug trafficking, while proactively building relationships with the hotels in the area in hopes of having them help. Thank you, Sergeant Lavin, for letting me tag along!