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Utah crime rates are up while officer retention declines

SALT LAKE CITY — New numbers released by the Utah Department of Public Safety show a disturbing trend for the state — crime is up, and not just petty crime, which has Utah sheriffs concerned.

Sheriff Chad Jensen with the Cache County Sheriff’s Office said it means more victims and fewer officers.

He puts a lot of the blame on declining support for law enforcement — both from the general public and from law and policymakers.

It’s not lost on anyone that the crime data comes with some unfortunate timing.

“There was a convicted felon that was on probation that was just allowed to walk free,” said Jensen, referring to the man accused of killing University of Utah football player Aaron Lowe, who was a repeat offender.

The sheriff went on to say, “We’ve created a system where defendants have more rights than victims.”

Jensen, who is the president of the Utah Sheriff’s Association, said the numbers should be sobering and indicative of a system that, he says, has gone too soft on crime.

“It’s the George Soros, the cashless bail, the justice reinvestment, the Sentencing Commission,” he said.

According to the DPS, many of the worst crimes shot up between 2019 and 2020, with vehicle thefts up nearly 35% and homicides up 44%.

Adding to the struggle is the number of law enforcement officers on the streets, which continues on a downward trend.

“Law enforcement have vacancies and holes that we’ve never had before,” said Jensen. “We are getting no new blood, so to speak, into public safety, into law enforcement, to come do the kind of work that the public expects law enforcement to do.”

Alexia Ramos feels the shortage firsthand. On June 9, her father, 49-year-old Joseph Salas, was found murdered.

“They just tell me that there’s no more leads,” said Ramos.

His body was dumped in the Jordan River.

“You can just feel the sadness,” said Ramos.

There’s not a day that goes by that she doesn’t think about him.

“He always wanted to see the grandkids,” she said. “Whenever we would visit them both, he would always just spend time with the grandkids.”

Nearly four months after his death, police still don’t know who killed Salas.

“There are thousands and thousands of cases in this state going unreported because agencies can’t take them, don’t have the staffing to take them, won’t be prosecuted if they were to catch the perpetrators,” said Jensen.

Just a few days ago, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall reported there are over 600 open positions in law enforcement in Utah.

Jensen said the shortage puts both the public and officers at risk.

“It’s frustrating right now,” he said.

It’s bad news for people like Ramos, who wants her dad’s case solved.

“It’s kind of hard to see that this world is starting to go down such a rocky road,” she said. “It makes me very scared for my children when they get old and everybody else’s children as well.”

But, Jensen believes there is a solution, which is a big reason why he’s sharing these numbers.

“We need the public to reach out to their legislators, to reach out to their local residents, their local governments, and go on the bandwagon for public safety and law enforcement,” he said.

Jensen said a recent survey also shows that nearly 60% of Utah law enforcement are considering a change in career, adding to the need to recruit more officers.

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