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Transcript: Washington Square Curfew Enforcement Recap

SALT LAKE CITY – The following is a recap of the coordinated effort initiated by the Salt Lake Police Department in conducting curfew enforcement in and around Washington square following the occupation of a group of protesters.

On Friday, January 3, a group of protesters gathered on Washington Square and erected an encampment. They submitted a list of demands to the City but refused to meet with City administration to discuss the issue. We were told that some unsheltered people along 500 S. were woken up very early and told to move to Washington Square. We presented a video clip during the press conference which showed officers speaking to people who said that protest organizers dragged peoples belongs to the compound. After two days, the protesters were still unwilling to meet.

Last night, over 100 officers and civilian staff with the Salt Lake City Police Department conducted an operation removing protesters that had been participating in an occupy-style protest on Washington Square. The protesters were in violation of park curfew. Notifications were made to the protesters Friday in person with fliers outlining the violations. Notifications were again made on Saturday throughout the day and up until 11:39 p.m. Because of their failure to disperse and the ongoing public safety issues, we called in the Public Order Unit. At the time notification began, there was an estimated 100 people in the camp.

To be clear, we respect and support the rights of those who want to protest in a safe, peaceful manner and in accordance with the laws of this city, state, and nation. We will not allow, however, unlawful, takeover-style protests that create hazards to the community. We look for positive and constructive ideas to help solve the issues that our community is facing and invited the leaders of this group to have a civil dialogue on Friday with Mayor Biskupski and Mayor-Elect Mendenhall. We have seen this same group of protesters involved in the inland port and other politically polarizing issues. This group has chosen to use tactics that have historically not been positive and constructive.

I would like to take this opportunity to address directly some allegations that have been levied against this Department. We have been accused of being heavy-handed and violent. I am here to tell you, what I have personally seen has been a model of restraint and professionalism in the face of some of the most inciting and vulgar verbal assaults one can tolerate. Key members of the group continue to find causes that put them in direct confrontation with police in hopes of instigating an encounter that fits their narrative. This puts officers and the public in dangerous situations.

We have been accused of stealing personal items from those experiencing homelessness. I can personally tell you that not one single report of theft has been made to this Department. Our practice and policy are to book into evidence all items that accompany any person who is taken to jail. This is documented time after time and the stores of our evidence unit can attest that this is the case in the rare instances that we make a physical arrest.

We have been accused of harassing the unsheltered when there are not enough beds to accommodate them. This allegation is the most concerning to me. We work with compassion and empathy to offer services to any who want them. We do this hand in hand with social workers and in concert with service providers valley-wide. We have reduced by 38% the number of citations issued for camping this year over last year, and even more drastically compared to 2017. Our goal is to ensure the safety and welfare of those experiencing homelessness, not removing the necessities they need to survive.

One of the most concerning issues for me was that yesterday officers arrived on an overdose at the encampment on Washington Square. Medical personnel and officers were slowed down in their response to that overdose by protesters. Due to the volatility of the situation, EMS had to take extra time to secure their safety before being able to administer aid. Let me be clear: This put a man’s life at risk! I WILL NOT have another person needlessly die in an occupied camp like what happened during Occupy in two thousand eleven.

Our officers have shown great restraint in dealing with these individuals. We planned and carried out a strategic removal of the protesters last night. We had our social workers out to offer resources to those people experiencing homelessness. At the time we began this operation, there were 74 beds available in shelters. During that time, our social workers contacted four individuals that requested a bed, and transportation to those shelters was arranged. But, when it came time to take the individuals, they refused to follow through and go to the shelter. Our officers and social workers have beds that can be accessed through our service providers and no one will be turned away.

The charges of the 17 people arrested include: Curfew, trespassing, interfering with arresting officers, disorderly conduct, failure to disperse, and resisting arrest. We will be reviewing body cameras and reports and may be screening additional charges on some of those who have been arrested or others who may have been involved. Four protesters were taken to jail and 13 were issued citations and released.

Property of those arrested is being held in evidence for safe keeping. Public Services estimated 6 to 7 tons of trash and 825 pounds of evidence was collected and removed. Storage containers provided by the city will hold this property at a downtown location to make it easier for the owners to pick it up. For anyone who needs to coordinate retrieval of their property, please call 801-799-3000.

I want to thank all our partners that made this operation possible. We could not have done this alone. I want to thank the Public Services Department who immediately began cleaning up and are still doing so. Thanks to our social workers, Adult Probations and Parole, Utah Highway Patrol, Unified Police Department, Salt Lake City Fire Department and Gold Cross. Thanks to the current and future mayors’ administrations, Director Pam Lofgren and all EOC and JIC members, SLC 911 and their diligent dispatchers.