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Pioneer Park: What kind of legacy is this?

updated November 8th, 2007

Pioneer Park is called such as a legacy to the memory of the Mormon Pioneers first year spent in the Salt Lake Valley. The area was once a circle of log cabins built by Pioneers to survive their first harsh Utah winter.

Today the park full of drug users, drug dealers and vagrants. Many who are also camping and trying to survive addiction and mental disorders. Survival is the only thing in common most Pioneer Park "day campers" have in common with the Pioneers, so probably a more appropriate name for the park would be Survival Park. Despite frequent police raids and drug busts the drug trade survives and the homeless population campers and alcoholics persist in maintaining the park's "unsafe" reputation for area residents.

Today Mayor elect Ralph Becker recognizes, the on-going problem. He has made "cleaning up and "revitalizing" Pioneer Park a top campaign promise. However, the task of "cleaning up" Pioneer Park as eluded previous Mayors for the past 30 years.

Click to watch our interview with Martin Byas
Click to watch the story introduction.
Click to watch our interview with area resident Gilbert Packins.
Click to watch our interview with area resident Thomas (last name unknown)


Utah Stories revisits Pioneer Park one year after this story was written

Pioneer Park history

Drug sweeps increase in Pioneer Park

More funds for Pioneer Park?

Revitalization is on the way for Pioneer Park (May 15th 2007)

Dope easy to buy at Pioneer

Farmers market in Pioneer Park

Past attempts have included more police, undercover surveillance and most recently, police on bikes. City Council woman Nancy Saxon has suggested new idea, police on horses. Yea, horses have a great reputation for making dirty places more clean! Despite all best attempts of law enforcement, the drugs, camping, and vagrancy continue. It almost seems a lost cause that Pioneer Park will remain a disgrace to Salt Lake City. However, In on-going experiment in offering a new perspective, we tried something completely different.

Who better to know how to "clean up the park" then those who have witnessed all past failures first-hand?




"we live in a capitalist society and [in Pioneer Park] you have a supply and a demand."

For the first time (as far as I researched) has gone out to speak to those who are considered the "root of the problem"; the vagrants, and homeless and (possible) drug dealers. I set out to get their story. Who better to know how to "clean up the park" then those who have witnessed all past failures first-hand? Many, who are part of "the problem" believe it is absolutely impossible to remove drugs. As Martin Bias says, "We live in a capitalist society, here there is a supply and a demand." According to Byas as long as those two key ingredients exist, there will always exist the commerce of drugs.

(this treatment was later either copied or coincidentally repeated by City Weekly. However, Ted McDonough did even more extensive interviews with vagrants and the story is excellent (read it here)





According to the homeless I spoke to, the suppliers exploit the very weak nature of those who find themselves homeless and the homeless readily buy drugs to deaden the pain their existence. This was by far the most difficult investigation I have done because nobody wanted to speak to a camera. I ended up bribing the men who appear in the interviews with either burgers or money. What the camera doesn't show are the many who were very angry at me being there. I received obscene gestures, I was afraid at one point a man was going to chase me away. I was called a liar and a under-cover cop.

However, it was worth it. I think these interviews demonstrate a very unique perspective on the issue that politicians and law enforcement have neglected to examine.

Area residents believe that the park cannot be clean unless all vagrants are systematically removed. Or the homeless shelter is moved further West. However, Gilbert Packins explains that residents and cops are not seeing the bigger picture.

Packins says that the police are often harassing the alcoholics, because they are easier, while they let the much more difficult to handle, drug pushers, roam more freely. He says he hasn't seen law enforcement "crack down on drug pushers."

From what I discovered, there are two main-types of people in the park, that can be easily confused. There are people in the park who are down on their luck and typically alcoholic or mentally ill and then there are legitimate criminals. It is very difficult to discern which is which but, this is exactly the tough job Police need to be doing.

The Salt Lake City jail is full of all both types of people. From what I learned the police need to communicate and work harder in actually getting to know these people who come to the park every day to camp. This way they can weed out the drug dealers and leave the alcoholics and vagrants out of Salt Lake City's packed jail.

walking the fine line of compassion and getting the job done.

I understand that Police officers have a very difficult job of walking the fine line of being compassionate and getting the job done-- maintaining safety. However, its clear their current strategy isn't working. The drugs remain-- big time. Blatant and openly pushers approached me. They always asked me if I needed anything. "How about a crack party?" one man asked. "How about you go to jail." I thought. Its about time for zero tolerance.

In our next installment. We will be talking to the Police at Pioneer Park. Be sure to check back on Friday September 17th for the rest of this story.

Read our next installment offered one year later »

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