SALT LAKE CITY - Utah's top law enforcement officials are sounding the alarm about a rise in heroin-fueled violent robberies, calling on state lawmakers to approve more money for heroin recovery centers.
U.S. Attorney John Huber joined state, local and federal law officers this week in warning about a "heroin tsunami" that has resulted in a dramatic increase in arrests and seizures of the narcotic in Utah during the past three years. Huber said he believes a spike in violent robberies along the Wasatch Front and particularly Salt Lake City is directly tied to the surge in heroin addiction, according to the Deseret News (http://bit.ly/1Qju85B ).
"Although we have sympathy for those struggling and suffering with addiction, we have no tolerance for violent crimes committed by addicts," Huber said. He also sent a message to those who rob banks or commit serial robberies while threatening violence: "Whether they use a note or knife, they face the possibility of going to a far-off federal prison for a long time."
Although local police chiefs have been talking about a growing heroin problem for some time, Huber said Utah is still in the early stages of a heroin epidemic that if not addressed, could become worse.
According to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, 250 pounds of heron were seized in 2014, compared with 37 pounds in 2012. Neighboring states such as Wyoming and Colorado did not see a similar increase during that same time period.
Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and interim Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown joined Huber at a news conference Thursday to say they are committed to working together to get the message out to violent offenders that they will be arrested and prosecuted. But they also emphasized that arrests alone aren't enough to solve the problem.
"This is a community problem," Winder said. "Heroin addiction doesn't just start overnight. It starts when people in their families fail to recognize the early symptoms of addiction and fail to take active and aggressive steps to resolve it."
"My own relative - high on heroin and committing a series of robberies in the Salt Lake Valley, eventually found slumped over, literally dying, as heroin coursed through his veins in Pioneer Park. He now sits in my jail," the sheriff said, while calling on state lawmakers to increase spending to provide for more treatment beds.
Huber said that while medical providers, treatment providers and social service providers all individually do their jobs well, coordination between those entities isn't going as well.
"If you're an addict and are in need of help, we have incredible programs. We are committed to a therapeutic justice model," Gill said.
AP/Dec. 12, 2015