(October 17, 2018) In August 2017—three days after the launch of Operation Rio Grande (ORG) to ‘clean up’ the area near 500 West—the ACLU of Utah offered our view: “Operation Rio Grande appears to be, at this point in time, ‘business as usual.’” Noting the heavy focus on law enforcement, we described it as another ineffective attempt to address complex social issues like substance abuse and mental illness “through our broken criminal justice system.” Media reports that week noted that state officials secured 300 jail beds prior to the operation, but only 37 beds for drug treatment. Seeing how ORG was designed as a hammer, we predicted 14 months ago that everyone it touched would become a nail.
This page collects some ACLU of Utah statements and advocacy on behalf of the homeless and in response to police actions like Operation Diversion and Operation Rio Grande. The issues involved include ACLU of Utah priorities like law enforcement accountability, criminal justice and indigent defense reform, equal protection, racial justice, free expression and participatory democracy.
A critical appraisal
Operation Rio Grande’s 24-month timer will expire soon after the September 2019 closure of The Road Home shelter and its replacement with three homeless resource centers (delayed from June 2019). With that deadline now just months away, we believe a critical appraisal is necessary.
Watch a video of the October 18 2018 panel discussion on the YouTube screen below or at Facebook. This event featured the perspectives of law enforcement, treatment experts, social workers, and criminal defense attorneys including: Mike Brown, Chief of the SLC Police Department, Kate Conyers, former public defender and now private defense attorney at Conyers & Nix, Adam Cohen, CEO of Odyssey House, and Matt Melville, Director of Homeless Services at Catholic Community Services of Utah