Salt Lake City police Officer Cordon Parks kept knocking on the door until the man inside answered.
“What do you want? I ain’t breaking no law!” the man shouted when he came outside his house near 1000 East and 1700 South.
Parks wasn’t there to arrest him — the officer visits him almost daily to check in and encourage him to seek treatment for drug addiction.
It’s an example of a strategy in which officers take responsibility for repeat offenders, or problem areas, then check on them regularly in an effort to eliminate recurring crime.
There’s some indication the strategy is working. The amount of crime against people or property in the city was virtually unchanged overall, and 11 of 14 crime categories saw decreases in 2008 compared to the previous year. Only two categories have major increases — crimes police identified as connected to gangs, and car break-ins.
Chief Chris Burbank credits good policing for the stagnation, but acknowledges lots of factors go into crime rates — some of which are beyond the control of the police: the economy, community values, population trends.
There’s no doubt burglars targeting cars are an increasing headache for police and residents alike. But Burbank said he believes the gang connected statistic is up because police focused more on gangs in 2008 and identified more crimes as having some type of connection to them.
In the past few years, Burbank said, the police department has begun sending gang detectives to the scene of any crime believed to have a gang tie. The goal has been to arrest perpetrators before victims or rival gangs have the chance to retaliate. That may have had an effect on violent crimes such as robbery and assaults, both of which decreased in 2008.
Gang suppression moved to the forefront last year after 7-year-old Maria Del Carmen Menchaca died in a drive-by shooting in the Glendale neighborhood. The 2008 statistics showed the biggest increases in crimes identified as connected to gangs in districts in the west and central parts of the city.
Michael Clara, a Poplar Grove community activist, gives city officials credit for taking a greater interest in gang crime after Maria’s death. But he wants the city to move faster to hire a gang coordinator and implement some anti-gang programs.
“At least we’re having the discussion and moving forward,” Clara said.
While gang crime may grab the spotlight, the most dramatic increases were seen in car break-ins. There were about 700 more reported cases in 2008 than the previous year. Six of seven city council districts saw percentage increases, and the downtown area remains the hot spot for thieves.
Police last year caught one group of burglars who were breaking into cars parked at the Gateway during Utah Jazz games. After the arrests, police recovered a room full of purses, iPods and other electronics and personal items. Most of the loot had been left in plain view inside the cars.
Someone burglarized Jilyon Keesler’s Toyota Rav4 twice in two weeks in the fall. The first time, Keesler said, she parked her car overnight in front of an apartment complex on 1000 East near the University of Utah. A designer bag containing her roller derby gear was visible through the rear window.
A thief smashed the window and took the bag and gear, Keesler said. The next time, she parked the car in the Avenues. The rear window was still broken, she said, and someone entered through that window and stole medication from her glovebox.
“I don’t leave anything in my car anymore,” Keesler said.
Detective Shawn Smart, community intelligence officer for Sugar House neighborhood, said the department tries to educate residents on how to guard against property crimes.
Last year, Smart brought a guest with him to community council and watch group meetings: a career burglar Smart had arrested. The burglar was trying to turn his life around and told residents what he used to look for before burglarizing a home or car.
“They seemed to listen when he told them,” Smart said.
After Parks encouraged the 1700 South resident to go to drug treatment — so he wouldn’t keep getting stoned and dance and play music on his lawn at 2 a.m. — Parks went to a Home Depot store at 328 W. 2100 South he keeps a close watch on. It’s one stop on a list of people and places Parks checks between responding to calls.
The store has had trouble with car prowls in its parking lot. Management there has been cooperative and installed cameras and taken other steps to reduce the burglaries, but arrests have been few.
Another place on Parks’ list is an apartment building near 1800 S. Main St. When management witnessed a drug deal outside an apartment, they called police.
Parks, a 30-year veteran and former homicide detective, and other officers arrived to find a small group of drug dealers squatting in an elderly man’s apartment. The man was only allowed to sleep on the floor in one corner of the living room. Police arrested the dealers.
“We just went up there and made contact and had a success,” Parks said.