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Citizens sound off on policing to SLC leaders, Racial Equity Commission

Posted at 9:44 PM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 23:44:14-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City turned to its citizens Thursday evening, asking the community how to make the police department better while improving relationships with minority citizens.

The Racial Equity in Policing Commission held a listening session, inviting the public to call or text their candid thoughts to the city.

People shared a wide range of opinions, experiences, and ideas.

The Salt Lake City Council, Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Police Chief Mike Brown joined the Commission for the session.

Read: Amid calls for a major budget cut, the Salt Lake City Council focuses on the police department

At the beginning of the session, Chief Brown explained that he wanted to learn what changes the community would like to see from police.

"There's been a lot of issues," one caller named Michael said. "The officers didn't take me seriously."

A citizen named Beverly shared concerns about the police union.

"It seems that the balance of power or influence has tipped too far regarding procedural rights to the benefit of union members," she said.

A woman named Angela Kenda described how there are laws and regulations for offenders who break the law, but felt it's not the same for officers who act out.

"I just see that there's a lack of accountability on the police side," she said.

Read: SLCPD announces changes to address increase in crime

Some who called in to the listening session told stories about their interactions with police officers.

One caller who identified herself as Diane thanked the police and detailed a positive outcome after she called 911 on a family member.

"They were just really patient, asked questions, 'Hey what's the matter? What are you doing?' They weren't scared of him or anything, Which I'm so thankful," she said.

Other citizens told stories they found concerning.

Lou McKee, Executive Board Member for the Disabled Rights Action Committee, explained that they told officers about being light sensitive, but immediately after that police flashed the high beams on a vehicle and then used a flashlight to create a strobe light effect.

Lou said this caused them to have a seizure. Lou also told a story from another recent interaction.

"One of your police officers got into my personal space not wearing an appropriate mask that would actually keep me safe, and then proceeded to tell me how much he was proud of being an a**hole," they recounted.

A woman named Roseo said she doesn't have a driver's license because she fears being pulled over by police as an immigrant. To help
calm her fear, Roseo talked about how she went through the citizen's academy.

But instead of relieving her fears, she described how going through academy worsened her view of the police.

She said that police showed the academy videos of people of color being shot and described that attitude from the officers running the academy as "jovial" regarding the video.

Roseo also explained that she lived near a recent incident that took place.

"A child was shot two houses down from me," she said. "We were told we were going to get victim services in our neighborhood for the neighbors who had to witness it all, and this never happened."

Upon hearing that, Salt Lake City Council Chair Amy Fowler vowed that the city would follow up to see what happened, and make sure those services were provided.

The Racial Equity in Policing Commission also listened to entirely new ideas, like a collaboration with community organizations to create a pathway for refugees to get hired as police officers.

A man named Matthew, who said he works with refugees for his job, would love to work with commission to get POST and academy training to more people who are from and live within those communities.

He said he wanted to, "figure out a way that we can get more people that look like people in their communities policing their communities."

Several people who called in simply had questions.

"What have the police done to ensure that their police policies aren't unfairly targeted toward homeless people?" A caller named Milo asked.

"What are the steps or the precautions that both of your departments are taking in order to secure our safety?" asked another called named Ma Black.

Read: FOX 13 Investigates: Board says police officer used excessive force, others unprepared for SLC protests

Thursday night, the commission, council, mayor, and chief indicated, was all about listening-- not answering just yet.

"We want to make sure that we are listening to the policies, to the input of the community to make good policies," said Amy Fowler, the Salt Lake City Council Chair.

"We're not learning, if we're not listening," said Commissioner Darlene McDonald. "So, this is an opportunity for us to listen and to learn."