SALT LAKE CITY — After 7 months the Salt Lake City Council made the decision Tuesday night to lift the hiring freeze on the Salt Lake City Police Department.
The unanimous decision by the council will allow for the department to hire nearly 60 positions that are currently open within the department but will not increase funding levels.
The hiring freeze was enacted in June as a response to unrest in Utah’s Capitol City and calls for police reform.
“We’re not asking to increase the budget of the police department were asking to give the same level of service that we were offering back in June” Council member Chris Wharton said during the meeting.
The reason sited has to do with concerns over an increase in crime as well as calls for service as well as an increase in officers leaving the department.
Salt Lake PD’s crime statistics say that in 2020 there was a 24.1% increase in crime throughout the city from 13,479 property and violent crimes in 2019 to 16,730 in 2020.
That number also is back on the climb after a trend of decreasing crime over the last 5 years with an average of 16,929 per year.
“I’ve heard from residents and businesses and people who have visited our city about their experiences of not having a fast enough call response time with our police officers” Mayor Erin Mendenhall says “the very real crime increases and property and violent crime that we’ve experienced in Salt Lake City.”
Record numbers of officers have also resigned from the department according to an in depth report by The Salt Lake Tribune.
The ability to begin hiring officers again wasn’t supported by everyone, including Black Lives Matter Utah.
“We don’t agree with them lifting the ban on the hiring” says Rae Duckworth a member of Black Lives Matter Utah. “They need to Realize that that community doesn’t have the needed resources to get away from the crime so when they go into that community my hope is that they go in understanding, they go in anti-racist.”
Even though the city council’s decision was unanimous, there still were issues brought up by the council, mainly by Council Member Darin Mano who pointed out only 3 newly hired officers came from under represented communities.
“I think we need to do better at hiring new police class officers that better match our community,” he said during the meeting.
That was also a point that Duckworth says shows that the police department is not going out and recruiting in those communities. She says that in the next ten years, there should be a clear number one priority.
“Actively becoming anti-racist that would be the number one bulletin,” she Duckworth said.
Mayor Mendenhall and the council emphasized they do not wish to abandon efforts made to offer a diverse equitable policing force.
“I [also] don’t believe that the thawing out of these positions is counter to the work of increasing equity and increasing justice” The mayor told us, “We’re going to keep evolving and the new officers whether it's in 10 months … 2 years … 10 years… they are going to be a part of the culture that we are building and that’s a process not a switch that you get to flip.”
One of the main pushes from the mayor's office is the Racial Equity in Policing Commission created by an executive order from her over the summer of 2020.
That commission’s purpose is to “examine the Salt Lake City Police Department’s policies, culture, budget, and relevant City policies” and will make some of its first recommendations in a live televised listening session Thursday, January 28th, at 6:00 P.M.