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Audit of Salt Lake City Police Department finds holes in call response, transparency

Posted at 11:04 PM, Apr 22, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — A newly released audit is giving insight into the inner workings of the Salt Lake City Police Department, pointing out what the department does well and providing suggestions on how the department can be managed more effectively.

The Salt Lake City Council went over the audit this week, which dove into both department finances and operations. The audit's release comes during a historic week for the country, with former officer Derek Chauvin found guilty in the murder of George Floyd.

The finances portion of the audit proved to be a "Herculean task," Matrix Consulting Group Senior Vice President Alan Pennington said. He explained that's because of the way the department was coding expenses and keeping track of expenditures.

The consulting group, which carried out the audit, explained that this doesn't mean the allocation of resources is inappropriate, but described a lack of organization. They talked about how some expenses were improperly named in the budget, and other expenses weren't listed or accounted for ahead of time.

"The current approaches to budgeting that are being utilized by the city, are just not providing the level of detail or the transparency that you need to make some critical and informed decisions regarding how resources are allocated," Pennington said.

He said they have recommendations on how the department can more closely monitor and track the types of expenditures. He also added that now is a good time for the zero-based budgeting that the council is planning to carry out.

As far as the operational side of the audit, Matrix Consulting Group listed how they looked at things like how the department disciplines officers, how officers respond to mental health calls, internal affairs, body worn cameras, and more.

The audit found that Salt Lake City Police employs many resources and strategies for mental health calls, however, the audit did find a few holes.

One of those shortcomings, Matrix Consulting Group Vice President Ian Brady explained, has to do with the hours that the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT/HOST) staff work.

They work daytime hours Monday through Friday, but Brady described how their analysis showed that most mental health calls are likely to take place during the evening or nighttime hours, when CIT/HOST staff are not working.

"They're only able to provide that co-response 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and not during the hours in which those types of events-- where you have that risk for greater use of force and a mental health crisis situation-- when those events are most frequently occurring," he said. "So, we recommend prioritizing a co-response model and making it more available."

To help alleviate that, the audit suggested re-deploying two CIT/HOST officers and two Community Connections staff to afternoon shifts. It also mentioned the need to stagger workdays for the teams so that weekends are also covered.

Brady also said the department should add two additional CIT/HOST staff and an additional clinician.

He recommended call diversion for certain types of calls. This means instead of an officer with a gun and badge responding, Brady indicated, someone else would handle the situation.

Brady described that this could mean a social service professional responds, or a civilian responder, or the case is filed online.

One approach is to have a civilian respond to low priority calls for service, he explained.

"Call diversion is kind of an opportunity to refocus this and re-examine how these calls are triaged and who is handling them," he said.

By their analysis more than 14,000 calls could be diverted away from officers, Brady said, but it would require the city to add 20 additional positions to the police department.

As far as internal affairs, the audit found that 44% of complaints are internally generated, which the audit stated indicates a high level of internal accountability.

SLCPD conforms to best practices in many areas, said John Scruggs with Matrix Consulting Group, including accepting complaints from a variety of sources, accepting all complaints, tracking all complaints in a database, and setting a timeline of 75 days to investigate.

However, Scruggs said, there is a lack of transparency. The public can't go to the website and find out last year's complaint database, how many complaints were filed, and what the demographics were.

If an officer retires or resigns before an Internal Affairs (IA) investigation, Scruggs said that they found SLC PD doesn't require the complaint to be completed. He recommended the department complete those complaints and investigations. That way, it's on file if that former officer applies at other agencies.

Other suggested changes included post complete IA statistics on the public website and post more Use of Force information including demographics, among other recommendations to increase transparency.

The audit did look at employee wellness as well and found through two recent surveys that many officers are struggling with depression. "There is a need to further develop a wellness program," the audit stated, with several recommendations on how the city can best do that.

At the end of the audit run-through, council members asked follow-up questions and discussed next steps forward. They all agreed that the Racial Equity and Police Commission needs to look at the audit, and the audit was to be forwarded to the commission for their reaction, and further discussion.