SALT LAKE CITY — Many people said they agreed with Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s strategy to have police be largely hands off, at least at the beginning of Saturday’s protests, but others did not.
The decision to allow people to protest – even to the point of vandalism – was on purpose, Mendenhall said during a news conference Sunday morning.
“It was a calculated and strategic decision to allow people to protest and recognizing that we can clean up paint, we can replace windows,” she said.
Mendenhall said she looked at what was happening across the country where police interfere and it only escalates the violence.
Former Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said he understood the strategy, especially in this case where people were protesting police.
“When their anger is directed specifically at police officers, at the actions that have taken place, to then place police officers in the middle to stand around, that is a show of force,” said Burbank. “And so just having them stand there, right as soon as you put on riot gear, what you saw across the country, that just says throw rocks and bottles at us.”
Chris Bertram on the other hand, disagreed. He’s a former police chief of Holladay and now a college professor in criminal justice.
Just having them stand there, right as soon as you put on riot gear ... that just says throw rocks and bottles at us.
–Chris Burbank, former Salt Lake City police chief
"I do see that there were things that could have been done earlier on, in my opinion, to make sure you didn’t get to where we were,” he said. “We’re a place that we hosted the Olympics. The world looks to Salt Lake City and now they’re seeing us in this light, and I’m not that proud of that."
Bertram thinks if we had a larger police presence from the beginning, we could have avoided much of the destruction. He said if police had started to disperse the crowd earlier, we may not have needed the national guard. He also said what happened was predictable, and preventable.
I’d give (the initial strategy) a D.
–Chris Bertram, former Holladay police chief
“I’m a college professor, and I would say that for not looking out that far, for not looking out at 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock and to think that this was a probability, not a possibility, this was a probability based on what people were seeing across the country, I’d give (the initial strategy) a D.”
Mendenhall, however, said while she’s sorry for the property damage that occurred, she stands by the decision and thinks police action, and inaction, was appropriate.