Chris Burbank no longer chief of Salt Lake City PD

Posted at 3:56 PM, Jun 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-11 23:33:22-04

NOTE: Scroll down for the full, unedited video of Chris Burbank's press conference regarding his resignation.

SALT LAKE CITY – Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker stated in a press conference Thursday that Salt Lake City Police Department Chief Chris Burbank has not lived up to the mayor's expectations regarding an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, and Burbank said he resigned his position after being given an ultimatum by the mayor.

Becker made the announcement Thursday just before 4 p.m., and he has appointed Chief Mike Brown as the interim chief of Salt Lake City PD.

"It is with personal regret, that I announce today, Chief Burbank's departure from Salt Lake City Government," Becker said, later adding: "The chief has fallen below my expectations.”

The announcement is in connection to the handling of claims of sexual harassment brought against then-Deputy Chief Rick Findlay.

"In this specific case involving legitimate and substantiated claims of sexual harassment by a supervisor in the police department, we have three police officers who were betrayed by a superior," Becker said of the way the case was handled.

The city's human resources department and the police civilian review board determined in 2013 Findlay had acted inappropriately. Burbank placed Findlay on paid administrative leave, where he remained for about nine months until retiring with full benefits.

Becker said that his office had sent a corrective action letter to Burbank about one year ago regarding the issue. The letter states that in April of 2014 it was agreed that Findlay would be demoted, and the mayor's office said Burbank's move to put Findlay on leave was effectively "running out the clock" on the issue.

"While the offending officer police officer is no longer working for Salt Lake City, unfortunately this matter was not handled in the way that I had directed at the time," Becker said Thursday. "In fact, Chief Burbank's decision was contrary to specific direction from my office. In recent conversations with me, he had repeatedly asserted that he had believed, and continues to believe, his actions were sufficient."

The handling of Findlay's case has recently become the basis of a lawsuit. Click here for more details on the lawsuit brought forward by the three female officers who are suing the city and police department over their handling of a sexual harassment case.

Becker added, "I want every woman in Salt Lake City Government to know, that we value your service, and that sexual harassment will not be tolerated."

In a press conference later in the afternoon, Burbank told reporters he had a meeting with the mayor at 3 p.m. Thursday and that when he arrived he was given a pre-written statement and told to sign it and publicly apologize or resign--or be fired.

“[I] Was given an ultimatum that I deliver a signed apology to a press conference that they already called, I could resign, or I could be terminated," Burbank said. See the video below for the full press conference.

Burbank said he only got part way into the letter and didn't finish reading the whole thing because he didn't agree with the content. He said he believes in doing the right thing, and said in this case he felt that meant resigning rather than signing the letter. Burbank said several times he believes the move was political, and added that in his 9 years as chief he has disagreed with mayors but that this time it happened to occur during an election year.

Burbank said he felt his actions in the harassment case were sufficient and that the matter had been resolved more than a year ago.

“Policy, practice was followed in this particular circumstance," Burbank said. "One of things that I’ve always stood by is that I am fair and I am consistent in how I administer discipline and there was no questions that that’s how it was."

He said he moved to make sure Findlay wouldn't be around other officers after the allegations came to light.

"I made a decision that I thought best for the organization based on he was no longer in the workplace, he would no longer be in the workplace and moved out of the situation," he said.

Burbank said he is friends with and works with those suing the department and the city and says he is empathetic to their situation, but he said he has to consistently apply discipline to his officers and felt like he handled the allegations appropriately.

“For me to stand up and say this is the right thing to do would be a lie and would be a political move to get somebody elected," Burbank said.

He added: " “My decision was to resign from my position, and I will always stand up for what I believe to be the right thing to do. Even if that cost me my position, I will always stand up.”

Becker released a lengthy statement regarding the issue, saying he had wanted "to give Chief Burbank one more opportunity to reflect on his decision and jointly address this issue with me in an acceptable manner. Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach agreement. So it is with personal regret, that I announce today Chief Burbank's departure from Salt Lake City government."

Salt Lake City Mayoral candidate Jackie Biskupski and Salt Lake City Council Member Charlie Luke also issued statements, which are posted in this article below Becker's statement.

The full statement from Becker is reproduced below:

"A couple of weeks ago, a well- documented sexual harassment claim in our Police Department received renewed public attention in the context of a threatened lawsuit against the City. This event created additional public discussion and the victims raised understandable questions about how this matter was handled by Salt Lake City. As I stated at the time, sexual harassment is unacceptable in Salt Lake City government. Period.

In our City – and in City government – everyone should feel included and protected. In this specific case involving legitimate and substantiated claims of sexual harassment by a supervisor in the Police Department, we have three officers who were betrayed by a superior. Their claims were brought to the attention of and reviewed by the City’s Human Resources Department and Police Civilian Review Board - two very competent and professional organizations within City government. They both completed a thorough investigation, and both investigations sustained the allegations.

While the offending police officer is no longer working for Salt Lake City, unfortunately this matter was not handled in the way I had directed at the time.

In fact, Chief Burbank’s decision was contrary to specific direction from my office. In recent private conversations with me he had repeatedly asserted that he believed, and continues to believe, his actions were sufficient; this was also evident in his recent comments to the media on this topic. The Chief can speak for himself regarding the rationale for his decisions. Today, I am sharing with you the details of actions I took with Chief Burbank a year ago when he did not properly manage this situation.

This corrective action letter was sent to the Chief immediately following his inaction regarding the offending officer. The letter in many ways speaks for itself, but the upshot is that I, through my Chief of Staff David Everitt, in coordination with our Human Resources Department and the City Attorney’s Office, had urged our Police Chief to, at a minimum, demote the offending officer and take corrective measures to avoid future incidents of sexual harassment. The Police Chief did not follow our direction, and has taken only modest steps to implement the strong corrective actions outlined in the letter. These actions specifically included additional training and protective procedures for police officers. We have been monitoring the measures outlined in this corrective letter to Chief Burbank over the past year to determine if he was implementing them within the Salt Lake City Police Department, and while some implementation has taken place,, on balance the Chief has fallen below my expectations.

Also over the past year since this situation arose, my team and I have struggled with a difficult situation. We have wanted to protect the privacy of personnel actions, particularly the victims whose identities remained private until they chose to go public a couple of weeks ago. We also didn’t want to minimize the remarkable service of Chief Burbank and the ways in which he has reflected the high ideals of Salt Lake City government and our City.

Because this unusual situation involves a long serving and well respected Department Director I directly supervise, I wanted to give Chief Burbank one more opportunity to reflect on his decision and jointly address this issue with me in an acceptable manner. Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach agreement.

So it is with personal regret, that I announce today Chief Burbank’s departure from Salt Lake City government. He has honored Salt Lake City in many ways by his service, and has made us proud in the way he has protected so many people in our community. His strong advocacy for civil rights, protection and inclusion of all residents of the City in our public safety umbrella, and personal actions to recognize the rights of everyone to exercise their first amendment rights - as he did in the Occupy Salt Lake and Tim DeChristopher protests - defused difficult situations and reflected well on our City and policing. I’m grateful for his service and that he has stayed as long as he has. But it’s now time to turn the page and begin a new chapter in policing in Salt Lake City.

I’m naming Deputy Chief Mike Brown as interim Chief for the next several months. He has a wonderful record of service in Salt Lake City and will provide continuing strong protection in our community while recognizing the rights of everyone and maintaining the trust that is at the core of policing in Salt Lake City. The people of Salt Lake City can rest assured that the Salt Lake City Police Department – made up of hundreds of exceptional, dedicated officers and civilians – is on the job, protecting and serving as they always have.

I am hopeful that my actions today have another important result: I want every woman in Salt Lake City government to know that we value your public service and that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. My administration has demonstrated over and over again a commitment to gender equality in the workplace. That said, I know that Salt Lake City government still has much to do to address improving equality and justice for women and minorities in our ranks. I am committed to continue taking actions to accomplish our goals of justice and equality.

On a personal note, I want to apologize again to our female officers involved in this situation. The pain and suffering you and your loved ones faced is terribly wrong, demeaning, and grossly unfair. Having your circumstances exposed through the media can only make these incidents more difficult. I hope you can find peace and solace in the years ahead.

Now, I want to address some of the statements about my leadership on this issue. Critics have suggested that I and the City have been lax and have not taken these allegations and behaviors seriously. And, they have suggested that the City has inadequate policies and procedures in place and therefore tolerates hostile and discriminatory behavior in the workplace.

If you examine the facts, especially in light of the more complete information available today, I believe you’ll find these assertions are wrong.

As your Mayor, I also want to take a moment to talk about my personal views and experience on this difficult matter.

As we have seen over the past two weeks, there is no doubt that in an election year, my opponents will seek to use any and all actions of my Administration to their political advantage. This is unfortunate. I have strengths and weaknesses, like anyone. And, as a Mayor up for reelection, I expect criticism and open airing of disagreements. However, for anyone who knows me – and some of my most vocal critics know me quite well – they know that I stand firmly and unequivocally for the just, fair, decent and equal treatment of all people. My first act as Mayor was to successfully pursue an end to discrimination that existed in our laws for the LGBT community. That commitment has helped guide our Administration from day one to today. The suggestion that I would be in any way apathetic or cavalier about sexual harassment in a City department or in any other workplace is offensive.

This is an election year, and I understand how a campaign can heighten rhetoric. Fair enough. I welcome the challenge. But our political process should focus on legitimate areas of policy and leadership differences among the mayoral candidates and not trivialize or politicize issues as serious as sexual harassment, which involve victims who deserve respect and privacy. I also expect that all of those involved in Salt Lake City mayoral politics this year will maintain civility consistent with the pledge I, and I presume other candidates, made when we filed for office.

Thank you."

Jackie Biskupski, a candidate for Salt Lake City Mayor, also issued a statement Thursday following the press conference, stating that the incident happened on Becker's watch and the "buck stops with him."

See below for the full statement:

Chief Burbank's firing is unfortunate but necessary. In many ways he has been a solid leader for the Salt Lake City Police Department. However, it has become clear that there was a pattern of misconduct on the part of his immediate subordinates that was mismanaged by him and is absolutely unacceptable. While I support the action, it is concerning to me that the Mayor has taken over a year to become fully aware of the situation. And Salt Lake residents may find it significant that this mayor is acting only after the nature, severity, and disposition of the allegations of sexual harassment have become public in press reports. One could be forgiven for asking if this is too little, too late, and is done out of political expediency in the midst of an election campaign.

Salt Lake voters must not lose sight of the fact that all this happened on Mayor Becker's watch, and the buck stops with him. If Chief Burbank was the one at fault - as the mayor has implied in recent interviews - the time to act has long since passed. It is a convenient out for the mayor to be able to make a public show of this firing and distract attention from his own inaction and failure of leadership in the matter. It is yet another reason why Salt Lake City cannot afford an absentee mayor any longer.

Charlie Luke, Salt Lake City Council Member for District 6, said the only surprise was that it took this long for Burbank to resign.

"Today's announcement about Chief Burbank's departure from the Salt Lake City Police Department comes as a surprise - not because his handling of the sexual harassment issues within his department didn't deserve his dismissal, but rather because it took so long for this to happen. Last year I when served as Council Chair I raised questions to the administration about why Findlay continued on administrative leave until his retirement. They were never satisfactorily answered. Chief Burbank's behavior was as unacceptable then as it is today."