SALT LAKE CITY — How Salt Lake City enforces public safety will evolve with a new initiative to create a civilian response team.
FOX 13 asked the mayor and police chief why they’re diversifying the way the city responds to calls for service.
“Look, not every call we go on needs a police officer. What we’re seeing is we have more and more calls occurring every day and every year,” said SLCPD Chief Mike Brown.
“Even though crime is down more than 15 percent year-to-date in Salt Lake City, our calls for service continue to grow more than we’ve ever held before,” said Mayor Erin Mendenhall.
Police have proposed a creative solution to handle the growing call volume, and the mayor supports it.
“I mean, every call that comes in, we have to answer. So, if we can divert some of those calls off to this team, it frees up our officers to respond to those emergency calls,” said Chief Brown.
The idea is to hire civilians to help handle calls.
“Helping drivers on the roadside, doing agency assists, doing welfare checks on people. As we grow, our ways of responding to public safety, we don’t necessarily need more police officers all of the time,” said Mayor Mendenhall.
Mendenhall said the majority of those additional calls are non-criminal activities.
In October, police started using a telephonic response for calls that don’t need an officer to show up but need a case number. Those calls have been handled either by officers out on injury or doing overtime. Since implementation, they’ve handled over 7,500 calls.
Those calls could soon be answered by civilians.
“There are other cities in the nation who have civilian response teams doing things like directing traffic during a parade or when a sporting event gets out, where right now you would see a patrol officer pulled off calls to do that. These are the kind of activities that we’re seeing a lot of success in other parts of the country, and we want to do that here,” said Mayor Mendenhall.
The commission on racial equity and policing, which was put together in August of 2020, has continued to examine how public safety is conducted in the city. Mayor Mendenhall said the commission has been a part of the discussion and is supportive of this new program.
Having a civilian response team will also help address the shortage of officers. However, Mendenhall said they’re making progress on staffing. She said the Salt Lake City Police Department is set to be fully staffed this summer.
Twenty civilians would be hired in total, 12 would be a part of the civilian response team, and the other 10 would fill various roles, including expanding their special victims' unit.
Right now, these budget requests are before the Salt Lake City Council. They have until the middle of June to make those decisions, and the money hits the books on July 1.
Chief Brown said they’re hoping to have the civilian response team trained and ready to go by March of next year.