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A Look at the Link Between Heroin and Opiate Use and Bank Robberies in Utah

Recently Salt Lake City hosted a Violent Crimes Conference. During the three day event, information was presented showing that as the number of heroin users has increased in Utah; there has also been a rise in the number of violent crimes committed, especially in the Salt Lake City area.

According to the Police Chief of Salt Lake City, Chris Burbank, "We have seen an upswing of some of the violent crime taking place in and around the city. Now, this is not exclusive to the city by any means and it’s something we’re seeing across the country, due in large part to the heroin epidemic that we are experiencing,"

Robberies, specifically those occurring in banks, have increased substantially in the last year. The Salt Lake City Police Department reports there were 10 robberies in 2012, followed by 29 reported in 2013. As of the first of September 2014, there have been 16 robberies. With several months left in the year, this number will only continue to rise.

According to Special Agent to the FBI, Adam Quirk, “Bank robberies in the Salt Lake Valley rose almost 200 percent from the year before to now.” However, he also pointed out, “Police catch more than 80 percent of robbery suspects. It’s the most cleared violent crime there is.”

At a press event held after a large heroin bust in Salt Lake County, Burbank revealed that approximately 88 percent of all bank robbery suspects caught in the last year and a half were addicted to heroin. According to Burbank, what was once hardly seen in Utah has now become the “drug of choice” for the area.

Referred to as a “desperate user’s drug” by Matt Evans, a member of the Robbery Squad, the drug is being brought into the area and users are forced to go to desperate measures to obtain the drug. Evans stated, “It’s not uncommon for people to spend $1,000 to $5,000 a month just in heroin."

While the police department is working diligently to get heroin off the street, most believe that simply putting users in jail is not the answer. This theory is shared by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sam Gill, who has backed a research-based, data-driven approach that focuses on helping the user get treatment, as opposed to just prosecuting offenders.

Burbank implored citizens in the area to work together in order to effectively end the illegal drug problem, especially heroin. He concluded by saying, "Because as long as there’s a demand, someone will fill that demand, and as long as there are addicts who have to meet that demand that their body places upon them, we'll see crime occurring because of that.”

The three day conference concluded on September 5, 2014 after hosting more than 200 officers. Only time will tell if there will be any significant change in the number of robberies occurring in the Salt Lake area.

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