Community effort makes fighting crime easier

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    By JESSICA GUYNN

    Salt Lake City police officers and citizens have teamed up in an effort to fight crime and keep drunk drivers off the streets.

    Last weekend around 50 citizens and 25 policemen patrolled the streets of downtown Salt Lake in search of those driving under the influence of alcohol. From 10 p.m. Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday, members of the Neighborhood Mobile Watch Unit scoured the city in their own cars and reported any suspicious behavior to the police. The citizens would then follow the car until the police arrived.

    Those arrested for drunk driving were taken to a Mobile Watch van, which was fully equipped with a breathalizer, photo booth for mug-shots and holding cell. Police said the program, called DUI Saturation, saved them a lot of time. Rather than taking suspects all the way to the police station, officers were able to test and book them in the van.

    With help from the volunteers, police made 13 DUI arrests and said their efforts would help deter drunk drivers in the future. Detective Brandt Hutchison said the Mobile Watch program already has a reputation of catching criminals.

    “Often, when those visiting from out of state are arrested for drunk driving, they say that they have heard that citizens and police work together in Utah to catch drunk drivers,” Hutchison said.

    DUI saturation is done each month in a different area of Salt Lake City, and is usually responsible for 12 to 20 arrests. Kathy Gunn, assistant executive director of Mobile Watch, said, “Deaths due to drunk driving have decreased from seven in 1995, to just one in 1997. We believe that this decrease is directly related to the success of programs like the DUI Saturations.”

    Citizens participating in the program were volunteers who had been trained by the police in surveillance and pursuit.

    Salt Lake is one of many cities across the country that is combining the efforts of the community and police department to fight crime. Salt Lake Police Chief Ruben Ortega said, “Utah is receiving funds from the Federal Government to stop crime before it becomes a big problem. Community policing is the way that we can make sure Salt Lake never has the problems of other big American cities.”

    Police said citizens are effective crime fighters because they know their neighborhoods better than anyone, and know when something suspicious is happening.

    “Community policing is responsible for a 45 percent decrease of crime in Salt Lake City in the past five years,” Ortega said.

    The Mobile Neighborhood Watch began in 1993, when a group of five Salt Lake residents decided they were tired of crime in their community. They bought cellular phones and began driving the streets, reporting suspicious activities to the police.

    Gunn, one of the first five participants in Mobile Watch, said, “At first the police didn’t take us too seriously, because they had always received complaints from overreacting citizens. It took us two years to gain their respect, and now they trust us and value our contribution.”

    In fact, the police adopted Mobile Watch and now provide monthly training to citizens who volunteer.

    Police said there are currently 982 Mobile Watch volunteers who patrol 95 percent of the city daily. Besides looking for drunk drivers, volunteers watch over public schools and monitor gang activity.

    The philosophy of community oriented policing is that the “whole community is responsible for policing, not just the police,” Ortega said.

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