NewsLocal News


SLC Council approves new police budget following dozens of upset citizen comments

Posted at 11:05 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-17 01:40:14-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Council Tuesday evening voted on reducing the Salt Lake City Police Department budget after hearing from dozens of citizens who told the council the budget changes don't go far enough to help the community.

Many of the comments from the public Tuesday evening urged the council to defund the police department, and instead allocate that money toward other services like mental health and community-oriented programs.

Council members agreed that the changes they voted on are not enough, and not a solution — but simply a first step to re-imagining city services.

Salt Lake City Council Chair Chris Wharton said this represents a unique moment in history to deconstruct the problems in our system, and fix them.

"We have racism built into our very own systems. It's pervasive and it needs to change," Wharton said during a statement he gave ahead of public comment. "We're so grateful to have elected officials, engaged members of the public and a chief of police who all agree."

The plan includes a $5.3 million reduction of the more than $80 million police budget.

$2.8 million will be set aside with the promise of re-evaluating the police's role in the city, including in engaging with communities of color and underserved communities, and addressing systemic racism.

According to the motion passed by the city, the council will ask the administration to evaluate moving certain programs out of the Police Department, like park rangers and social workers.

The city will hire an independent auditor to conduct a "zero-based budget exercise, which city documents explain will take the police budget apart and then build it back line-by-line, "in a way that aligns with the policy goals of the Council, Mayor and the public."

Also included in the motion, is the intent to include police in the Reporting Ordinance. The Council said it will work with the Attorney's Office to create an ordinance that establishes reporting requirements for info collected by and related to the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Examples, documents state, include changes in policies or officer-involved critical incidents.

The motion calls for enhanced deescalation training, and Wharton said the police department would move toward less lethal weapons.

They increased the budget for body-worn cameras, explaining that they want every officer to wear a body camera.

In addition to focusing on the police budget, the council allocated $100,000 to support the development of a City Commission on Racial Equity and Policing.

The council also approved the investment of $1.67 million into communities of color with input from the Commission on Racial Equity and Policing.

That $2.8 million of funds set aside from the police budget, the council explained, can by used to implement resources by the newly formed Commission.

The city will enact a hiring freeze on any sworn officer.

Public comment spanned into the dozens, with nearly every person aside from a few expressing that these changes don't go far enough.

Citizens offered other steps they feel should be taken immediately.

"Terminate SLCPD Chief Mike Brown," said one person. "Renew focus on investing future funds on education, transit and social welfare programs."

A different citizen said that the longer there is a delay in change, the higher the likelihood Salt Lake City will have blood on their hands.

"We asked for a defunding of police to the tune of $30 million, but you as a council stated that was not a realistic amount," he said.

One person questioned why more money wasn't allocated toward mental health, and said money spent on new cars and hiring police officers could instead be invested in communities.

"Why, then, is not that 21 percent of our police budget being cut and invested into more mental health services?" he asked.

"I appreciate the freeze in the budget and hiring," one woman said. "But the training, less lethal weapons won't necessarily help unless there's substantial change in the laws to prosecute mistreatment of people."

After the vote to approve the budget without any additional changes, each council member reiterated that this is one step of many toward change.

They each said this does not do enough. Wharton said there is more work to do when it comes to policy.

He said he understands that a lot of people are angry, and will still be angry after the proposal passed.

"We hope you will continue to dialogue with us," he said. "Stay determined. Stay engaged. Keep telling us what you want to see and we'll keep listening and working."

Following the motion to approve the budget, another motion was made for the council to follow up in September with the soon-to-be-formed City Commission on Racial Equity and Policing.