Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Topics of accountability, crisis intervention and disability training, and consistency emerged during the Salt Lake City Racial Equity in Policing Commission's public listening session on Thursday.
The session, featuring key Salt lake City leaders such as Mayor Erin Mendenhall, the city council and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown, took place over Zoom on Thursday and began around 6 p.m., allowing residents to call or text comments regarding their perspectives on policing in the city. Viewers were able to watch the session on a variety of platforms from Facebook, on SLC-TV, or on YouTube.
Mendenhall began the meeting acknowledging the racial tensions that have arisen over the past year after the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer last May.
"It's been a learning experience every single day, not just being the mayor, but in particular, since May 30," she said, referring to the day a Salt Lake City protest turned violent. "And I'm getting quite comfortable with the vulnerability of not knowing everything, and being willing every day to listen and learn anew and rethink the status quo as we've operated."
Brown told the public that he had come with the intent of not just listening but learning.
"I really want to listen. And I want to learn what changes our community would like to see from their police department. And I sit here, as the chief, to learn and to understand. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand but they listen with the intent to reply. And I want you to know, I'm sitting here tonight to understand," said Brown. "So please, as your comments come out, I want you to know, I'm committed to this process. And I'm very thankful for the opportunity to hear from you."
A series of polls were introduced asking residents what part of Salt Lake City they resided or worked in, their ethnicity and race, their experience with police, where SLCPD could improve training, and how they could better recruit officers from different backgrounds.
Some of those results reflected, later on, concerns voiced by the public in the listening session.
"I know you're doing your best to screen people so that the bad apples don't get through because certain professions just shouldn't have bad apples but bad apples are likely to get through; it just happens. But when those bad apples get through I feel they get protected and there's no accountability held on the officer side versus the criminal side," said one caller.
On the topic of what SLCPD could do better in training, 45% of poll respondents said cultural competency and implicit bias; 45% answered crisis intervention; 3% responded other, and 0% responded firearms.
One commenter touched on both implicit bias and crisis intervention, pointing to the shootings of 13-year old Linden Cameron who has autism disorder and the death of a 22-year old black man, Darien Hunt, who was shot while carrying a katana sword.
"There's training available and training should not stop after they graduate, the police force. There should be ongoing, even if it has to be yearly, there needs to be more training involved, there needs to be more training with nonlethal force that should not be your first option if you're in a scary situation that you're not sure how to handle it. That should not be your first option. There needs to be ongoing training, constantly," said a woman who identified herself as Maggie. Changes are desperately needed, "whether it's training in mental health issues, racial, whatever it is," she said. "We are better than this. And we need to do something about it and not stand by and turn a blind eye to it and think that it's not our problem."
While police agencies require hours of training for newly hired officers once they have graduated from the police academy, changes could include more hours surrounding crisis intervention, de-escalation, bias training, or continuing training past the new hire period.
A member of the Disability Law Center joined the session at the commission's request. The caller, Andew, said that an estimated 40% of Utahns shot by police in 2020 were reportedly experiencing a mental health event. He recommended more training focused on de-escalation and crisis intervention as well as equitable language access for all those who enter the criminal justice system or encounter police.
Inconsistencies emerged with callers acknowledging different interactions with officers regarding mental health. One woman praised officers who were patient and didn't overact when she called them on her son. She said she was grateful that "nobody was harmed."
But another woman said that when she called the crisis line regarding her schizophrenic family member, they told her that they couldn't do anything until he harmed himself or someone else. Later on, she said that she was injured by her family member and had to go to the hospital. She emphasized that she would like the police to be consistent in their response to crises.
Another caller had a similar complaint of police not arriving when called.
"I'm interested in hearing what we can do for those Hispanic businessmen who have repeatedly told me that they don't feel that the police are responding to their calls, especially those who are in the west side of the city, and how can we make more connections so that all communities, in this case, the Hispanic community can be a part of this conversation and address their immediate needs which are very important," said a man identified as José.
Some callers felt that some of these concerns could be addressed by more diversity among police officers. Rebecca suggested that officers should "live in the jurisdiction in which they serve."
A similar comment was echoed by a man identified as Matthew, who said he works with immigrant communities.
"One of the things that I have really endeavored to try to do is get more refugees into policing or former refugees that have gained their citizenship. When we're talking about, you know, looking at the surveys and the questions that were asked at the beginning of this figure out a way that we can get more people that look like the people in their communities, policing their communities," said Matthew.
According to state data, out of 5,004 total officers employed in Utah, 3,097 of them are white.
All suggestions and perspectives were noted by the council and further evaluation and discussion on those topics were promised to participants by the commission. To view upcoming sessions by the commission or to make a suggestion to the commission, you can visit its website.