Aclu of Utah Takes Issue with Sheriff Winder’s Ideas for Combatting Crime in Rio Grande Area


SALT LAKE CITY — The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said Monday that it has concerns about the constitutionality and effectiveness of a recently publicized 21-point plan by Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder to curb crime in the Rio Grande neighborhood.
The ACLU believes some of the measures suggested in Winder’s plan run the risk of “trampl(ing) on some members’ constitutional rights and do(ing) nothing to resolve underlying causes of homelessness and addiction,” said organization spokesman Anna Thomas.
“Those who bear the responsibility of managing public resources, while protecting the rights of all community members, must resist the political pressure to engage in constitutionally suspect responses to common metropolitan issues,” Thomas said in a statement.
Winder talked about his proposed measures at a news conference last week, saying his ideas are intended to “stop the merry-go-round” problems of drug crime and prostitution in the area surrounding the Road Home at 210 S. Rio Grande St. Some of his suggestions could be seen as “harsh,” but the problems in the area require “exceptional steps,” he said.
“I would consider the current situation a crisis, and I think everyone in our community would agree with that,” Winder said at the time.
Winder presented his plan to the Pioneer Park Coalition recently, but none of his proposals are binding and there is currently no plan to undertake his suggestions.
The Pioneer Park Coalition has endorsed Winder’s plan, but the Downtown Alliance has not.
One of the proposals from Winder was to reduce capacity at the Road Home from 1,100 to 200 in two months and set up a temporary “urban campsite” at 100 South and 600 West.
The ACLU warned Monday that many of Winder’s proposals would not stand up in court.
“Policy proposals that seek to force individuals to live only in certain places or restrict their travel between cities and states may infringe upon those individuals’ constitutionally protected right to travel and right to freedom of movement,” Thomas said.
Of particular concern to Thomas was the possibility of a swift, large reduction in bed capacity at the Road Home.
“Restrictive policies and bed limits imposed upon emergency shelters like the Road Home will only exacerbate the lack of available sheltered spaces for people in need,” she said.
Winder said last week that he was aware that some of his ideas would not be received kindly by civil rights organizations. In response to that anticipated pushback, he said, “We are trying to take back an area of the city. We are not playing games.”
Winder added that “the goal is to take back a square mile of an urban center, which is what I think everyone wants done.”
The sheriff’s proposals would also allow officers to use patrol cars with license plate readers to pull over cars previously connected to crimes in the area. He also suggested that there be a way for panhandlers to receive aid online and for searches and criminal background checks to be performed before a person is allowed to stay at the Road Home.
Thomas said Monday that the ACLU is supportive of several initiatives in the area designed to assist homeless individuals.
The ACLU of Utah has observed several more promising initiatives in the Rio Grande neighborhood over the past 12 to 18 months,” she said.
“(Those include) the increased used of social workers, creative approaches that offer treatment before incarceration, intensive community engagement by the Salt Lake City Police Department, county- and citywide efforts to address the issue of lack of affordable housing, and county- and citywide efforts to increase and disperse shelter beds throughout the Salt Lake Valley.”