November 03, 2021

Racial equity in policing commission delivers recommendations, enters monitoring phase

At a press conference announcing the creation of the SLC Racial Equity in Policing Commission, the six original core commissioners appointed by Mayor Mendenhall pose in the International Peace Gardens in the summer of 2020. From left to right: Darlene McDonald, Rev. France Davis, Nicole Salazar-Hall, Verona Sagato-Mauga, Aden Batar, Moisés Próspero, City Council Chair Amy Fowler, Mayor Erin Mendenhall  Photo courtesy of SLC Council
At a press conference announcing the creation of the SLC Racial Equity in Policing Commission, the six original core commissioners appointed by Mayor Mendenhall pose in the International Peace Gardens in the summer of 2020. From left to right: Darlene McDonald, Rev. France Davis, Nicole Salazar-Hall, Verona Sagato-Mauga, Aden Batar, Moisés Próspero, City Council Chair Amy Fowler, Mayor Erin Mendenhall  Photo courtesy of SLC Council|||| At a press conference announcing the creation of the SLC Racial Equity in Policing Commission, the six original core commissioners appointed by Mayor Mendenhall pose in the International Peace Gardens in the summer of 2020. From left to right: Darlene McDonald, Rev. France Davis, Nicole Salazar-Hall, Verona Sagato-Mauga, Aden Batar, Moisés Próspero, City Council Chair Amy Fowler, Mayor Erin Mendenhall Photo courtesy of SLC Council|||| ||||
By Sheena Wolfe

With its phase one recommendations accepted by the Salt Lake City Council, mayor, and police chief, the Salt Lake City Racial Equity in Policing Commission (SLCREPC) has begun phase two, which involves monitoring implementation of phase one suggestions and looking at outcomes and indicators to help analyze the success of changes in training, practices, and policies at the SLCPD.

For example, said SLCREPC Commissioner and Westside resident Moisés Próspero, additional social workers are being hired by the SLCPD for crisis intervention in the community. “We believe teams that consist of a detective and a social worker can help to calm potentially volatile situations especially in instances where mental illness plays a factor,” Próspero explained.

“If a counselor goes out on a mental health call, there is more likelihood of a successful resolution that doesn’t involve an arrest or jail time. One indicator of success might be that there are fewer arrests among the mentally ill population and more referrals to appropriate services,” he concluded, noting he believes future statistics will show this to be true.

According to its phase one report, the commission found that mental health access disproportionately impacts minority communities, and that 25% of calls to law enforcement from African Americans are mental health related.

“Measurements of success can also be used to access or continue funding for needed programs, such as the Promising Youth Project (PYP),” Próspero said. The PYP is a comprehensive crime, violence, and gang reduction program that contains a summer camp component where life skills and leadership are stressed in addition to fun and adventure. “It’s currently funded through grants,” Próspero said, noting that if program goals are achieved the commission may recommend that the PYP be fully funded by the city.

The summer portion of the PYP is critical for continuity, he said. “Our school police officers work with at-risk kids during the school year and see improvements in their attitudes and behaviors, but then summer comes along, and these kids lose the guidance and mentorship from officers,” said Próspero. “Youth are more likely to fall back into old habits.”

The SLCREPC in its phase one report gave instances where training, practices and policies are successful and gave instances where these indicators do not add up to success. Próspero cited the current memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the SLCPD and the Salt Lake City School District that governs the school resource officers (school police officers) as an example of a successful outcome.

“School shootings throughout the country in past years resulted in increased school police officers, which often resulted in increased student citations and arrests. This gave rise to the term ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’ because citations and arrests were made for a variety of misbehaviors that were not actually criminal offenses such as talking back to a teacher or giving ‘attitude’ to the police officer,” he said, adding that the MOU gives a clearer understanding of what constitutes an arrest and what should be addressed through discipline policy.

The MOU also spells out the roles and responsibilities of school police officers and school administrators, said Próspero, and as a result children at risk for behavioral problems are given appropriate intervention rather than jail time and suspension. Arrests in schools have correspondingly decreased.

An example of where training, policies, and procedures need improvement is in hiring police officers who are good at connecting to the public, especially in communities of color. “Right now,” Próspero said, “there is little cultural or bias training, and the ethnic population of the current police department does not match that of the communities they represent.” He continued, “Additionally, the commission would like to see more people of color on the police force to represent the community they serve and more police officers who are community-oriented.”

To produce these outcomes, the commission in its phase one report has recommended hiring a professional recruiter and that the police force receive community-based training on the history of policing with people of color and working with the neighborhoods in general. “We want to see police officers who can work with and interact with the community,” said Próspero.

In addition to outcomes and indicators for measurement, the commission would like to see new initiatives implemented using best policies and practices, Próspero said, noting that the SLCREPC will continue to study the overall structure of the SLCPD as it relates to minorities, and that it plans to make further recommendations in a phase two report.

The SLCREPC was formed at the request of Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall more than a year ago in response to nationwide protests regarding police brutality against people of color. During phase one – and after studying current procedures and policies in the SLCPD, looking at national best-practices models, and talking with police officers and the community – the commission produced recommendations in three key areas: police training, police policies and practices, and school safety.

Recommendations of the commission’s training subcommittee include improving guidelines for increasing diversity of field training, more training in crisis intervention, and overall recruitment of people of color and those with experience working with the community.

Recommendations of the commission’s policies and practices subcommittee include improved analysis of information from police body cameras, an internal implicit bias survey, and engagement in a process to develop the best and most appropriate system for incoming calls, diversion, and dispatch coordination and response.

Recommendations of the commission’s school safety subcommittee include improvements in the MOU between the police department and the city school districts regarding student interaction with school resource officers, additional equipment and space for the Promising Youth Program, discussion of hiring protocols for the SLCPD, and collaboration between various youth programs.

When asked what commission recommendations have been implemented to date, SLCPD Communications Director Brent Weisberg said: “We are continuing to evaluate with the SLCREPC, the city, and other stakeholders to review the commission’s recommendations to ensure we are providing safe and equitable services to our community.”

For a complete outline of the commission’s findings, visit slc.gov/boards/repagenda.

    

Published in Fall 2021