Should Salt Lake City police increase diversity among trainers? Bolster crisis training? Racial equity panel wants residents to weigh in.

Salt Lake City’s Commission on Racial Equity in Policing is moving forward with its evaluation and proposed reforms for local law enforcement.

The City Council and Mayor Erin Mendenhall formed the commission in June following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police, and as multiple protests and demonstrations demanded police reform locally. The commission now serves as an advisory panel to examine the procedures, budget and culture of Salt Lake City Police Department.

Tuesday afternoon, commission representatives presented a series of draft recommendations to the council that touch on police training, policies and the school-to-prison pipeline.

“All of these need to be informed by public input,” said Siobhan Locke, a consultant hired by the city to serve as a facilitator for the commission. “These are just the thoughts of the commission … based on research alone to date.”

As they finalize the recommendations below, the commission is inviting the public to weigh in at a listening session next week. Details on how to participate are included at the end of this story.

Concerns with officer training

On the topic of training, the commission’s research found a lack of diversity in the police department’s field training officers. Those officers mentor recruits who have finished police academy training and evaluate them as they start their new jobs as officers.

Of Salt Lake City Police Department’s 67 field training officers, only six are people of color — two Pacific Islanders and four Latinos. The commission suggested creating incentives and trying harder to recruit more officers of color into field training.

“Our specific concern was that there is no targeted outreach efforts to ensure or improve the diversity of that program that has such an impact on very brand-new officers as they go onto the street,” said Dante James, a facilitator for the commission’s Training Subcommittee.

The commission further raised concerns that the police academy provides no education on the history of the city’s communities of color.

“So officers are going onto the street [and] engaging with communities that they may really have no understanding of,” James said.

Inconsistencies in crisis response

The commission further identified issues with the police department’s Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT. Salt Lake City’s crisis response received particular scrutiny last year after officers shot a 13-year-old autistic boy 11 times while he was having an episode.

“Our concern is that typically the mantra you hear is ‘all of our officers are CIT trained,’” James said.

That’s “essentially true,” he continued, but only for officers who graduate from Salt Lake City’s police academy. The department does not have data on whether officers recruited from other departments and out of state receive CIT training, and those lateral hires are not “specifically required” to be CIT certified.

The commission further found that only 189 of Salt Lake City’s current officers have chosen to re-certify their CIT training, but 272 have not.

“We just found that to be problematic moving forward,” James said. “There’s no data on how long those officers have chosen not to re-certify.”

Salt Lake City has budgeted 10 social workers to work with the police in crisis intervention, although only seven of those positions are currently filled and they only work during the day. Only four officers in the department rotate to work with the social workers.

The commission is mulling recommendations to increase the CIT budget, in part to grow the social work and rotating officer staff, as well as requiring CIT certification and re-certification for all officers.

Public confusion over use of force policies

There appears to be dissonance between the public and law enforcement over how officers are held accountable for use of force.

As the commission worded it, “[police] and the community are operating on two different planes of understanding regarding the legalities, policies and practices related to what is subjectively reasonable and acceptable use of force.”

The city has already taken positive steps to rectify the issue, according to the commission, including the mayor’s executive order in August requiring certain police reforms, one of which is narrower parameters to when officers can use force.

Under the order, officers must use de-escalation techniques before using force or making an arrest. They need two levels of review in every use-of-force situation, not just cases leading to injury. Officers are also compelled to intervene when police observe fellow officers using force that is illegal or excessive. They cannot use deadly force when trying to prevent self-harm situations if the person does not pose a threat.

The commission noted that the city could take further steps, including lobbying for use-of-force reforms at the state level and encouraging the police department to adopt policies that go further beyond what courts and case law requires.

The city could also potentially improve communication about police policies and take into account what the community considers “reasonable and acceptable.”

Lack of data to hold police accountable also appears to be slowing the reform and recommendation process. Currently, the commission does not have access to the same information as the police department’s Citizen Review Board, which prevents it from fully understanding how policies and procedures are applied.

Facilitators suggested allowing commission members access to that data, or allowing commissioners over 21 years old to have access after signing a non-disclosure agreement.

Improving police interactions in schools

Recent reforms introduced by the state of Utah and former Mayor Jackie Biskupski helped reduce citations and arrests in Salt Lake City schools, but the commission identified a memorandum of understanding between the mayor’s office, the police department and the school district that expires next month.

One of its proposed recommendations is renewing and reviewing that agreement.

“We’re [also] looking at how to reduce the remaining contributions the [school resource officer] program may have to the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Locke, who is facilitator for the school safety subcommittee.

Not all goals included in the memorandum are being adequately tracked either, according to the commission’s findings, which makes it difficult to evaluate the school program’s success. The city’s current vendor for collecting data on school resource officer interactions, for example, does not allow it to look at Latino students specifically and may not sort the data for gender.

“If that is in fact true, we may want to look at a change in vendor,” Locke said.

The commission may also call on the mayor to staff and oversee the school program.

“Previous administrations have had a full-time employee to address equity in education,” Locke said.

Public input

Salt Lake City residents can provide feedback about racial equity in policing and the commission’s recommendations at a virtual public listening session at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 20, which will be streamed on YouTube and Facebook.

Those who wish to provide comment via text or phone call can RSVP with the commission’s virtual form.

Members of the public who cannot attend the listening session can submit comments to the commission 24 hours a day by calling (801) 708-0935, emailing REPcommission@slcgov.com or texting “EQUITY” to (801) 575-7755.

Online discussions about policing, a public survey and more event updates are available on the commission’s website at slcracialequity.mysocialpinpoint.com.