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Pyle: Public safety, Salt Lake style
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some people seem determined to make it really difficult for a fuzzy old liberal to point to the federal government as the guardian of freedom and to local government as what freedom needs to be protected from. (Unless, of course, he lives in Kanab.)

A generation of folks who grew up watching fed Bobby Kennedy (good) vs. local Bull Conner (bad) now lives in a world where the federal National Security Agency is hiding its secrets in an energy-hogging bunker on a military reservation in Bluffdale while the Salt Lake City police and fire departments are inviting everyone to see their electric net-zero headquarters smack in downtown.

While National Intelligence Director James Clapper was apologizing to members of Congress for having lied to them about the scope of the NSA's sweep of telephone and Internet activities, SLC Police Chief Chris Burbank and Deputy Fire Chief Brian Dale were making the rounds and inviting the folks who paid for their brand new Public Safety Building to come and have a look at it.

Local worthies cut the ribbon on the facility Friday, and tours are going on through next Saturday.

"The public trusted us enough to give us $125 million," Dale told The Tribune Editorial Board the other day.

"We just want the public to know how appreciative we are," Burbank said. "Support for police and fire has never been higher. The confidence the public has in us reflects our style. We are open. We invite people to participate. We don't want to be closed off."

Burbank said that some other police chiefs have seen his building and were left scratching their shaved heads, wondering why, if the taxpayers were willing to part with that much money, he didn't build himself a new Fort Apache The Bronx to keep folks out. But the very nature of this building — open, inviting and, with its plaza and public art, deliberately blending into the cultural center of the city, the popular City Library Square — is all deliberate, the police chief said.

"It will change the dynamics in policing for the next 50 years," Burbank said.

Not that Salt Lake City's law enforcement approach wasn't already something to emulate. And the new building is a reflection of this city's strongly stated philosophy that being open with people, all people, gives police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other public safety workers the ability to move among the people, help them and be helped by them. To report crimes. To coming forward as witnesses. And, any decent police officer's new most fervent prayer, to stay in the freakin' car when the 911 operator tells you not to go after that kid in the hoodie.

It is also why our top cop has no interest in being deputized to enforce federal immigration laws.

"Fifty percent of our population is minority, with lots of different languages," Burbank said. "In some parts of town, it's 80 percent. We have to gain the trust of those people. If we are viewed as anything other than fair and impartial, we lose."

The chief was also quick to give credit, not just to his police officers, but also to the community those officers work in. At Friday's opening ceremony, Burbank spoke movingly about his pride at being a peace officer in a community where large marches and months-long encampments go off without a confrontation. Where, when calling a halt to Occupy Salt Lake City, his officers carried it off wearing badges and neckties, not flak jackets and helmets.

There's a story about a good ol' boy becoming president of, I think, the University of Oklahoma, and pledging to build a university the football team could be proud of. This grand new Public Safety Building is evidence that we've got a community our public safety officers can be proud of.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, was a conscientious objector from his sixth grade safety patrol. gpyle@sltrib.com

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