Commission on racial equity urges Salt Lake City’s police improve its training programs

The commission wants more trainers to be officers of color and more focus on implicit bias.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Police take position around the Public Safety Building in Salt Lake City as protests against police brutality continued on Monday, June 1, 2020. Salt Lake City's Commission on Racial Equity in Policing released its first set of recommendations for SLCPD on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

A commission formed to address race issues within the Salt Lake City Police Department has released its first set of recommendations, and it all focuses on one aspect: Training.

The six-page report, released Tuesday, said the department doesn’t have enough people of color working as field training officers, the people responsible for teaching SLCPD’s recruits. It added that the department doesn’t spend enough time on diversity and implicit bias during its police academy, and that it isn’t stringent in making sure its officers are certified in crisis intervention team, or CIT, training.

The commission issued a number of recommendations, including that the department actively recruit officers of color to diversify its field training program, and require CIT certification, focused on interacting with people in a mental health crisis, and re-certification for all of its officers.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a statement on Twitter that she looked forward to working with Police Chief Mike Brown, Salt Lake City Council members and police officers on what she called “next steps.”

“These recommendations touch critical parts of our department,” she said, “and I think they have the potential to make an important difference in our work toward greater equity.”

According to the report, six out of SLCPD’s 67 field training officers are people of color.

Field training officers are an important place to start, the commission said, because they have a big impact on recruits. The report cites a SLCPD manual that says field training “imprint[s] department culture, values and ethics” the recruit will have for the rest of their career.

“Ensuring the broadest demographics possible within those officers who are [field training officers] sends an unconscious message to the new recruits that diversity is an important factor for SLCPD, that is is not essentially a white-only police department, and officers and communities of color are important in the fabric of SLCPD,” the report read.

The report notes that the department’s police academy only spends four hours on diversity, equity, inclusion and implicit bias, a number the commission said is “insufficient to embed an equity lens and consciousness throughout the organization.”

The group said the department should hire community-based trainers of color to teach an equity-based curriculum, as well as the history of Salt Lake City’s diverse communities, to recruits.

The report also focused on the department’s CIT training, which was criticized after an officer shot and injured a 13-year-old boy with autism who was in mental crisis last year. Crisis intervention team training teaches officers how to respond to people experiencing mental health situations and other crises, and emphasizing de-escalation, or calming the situation.

The department had previously announced a partnership with KultureCity, an organization that provides training on how to best handle interactions with those with sensory needs, like those with autism.

The commission found the department doesn’t ensure lateral hires are CIT-certified and doesn’t require officers to get re-certified in CIT when accreditation expires two years after the academy. All SLCPD recruits go through CIT training.

Currently, according to the report, 189 SLCPD officers whose training lapsed — 41% — have chosen to re-certify their CIT training, while 272 haven’t.

This set of recommendations comes about nine months after city leaders launched the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing in June, as demonstrators took to the streets in Salt Lake City and across the country to protest police violence after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Police spokesperson Sgt. Keith Horrocks said the department received the recommendations but isn’t ready to comment on which suggestions it will take. He added this report is the first of many the department will receive from the commission that it will evaluate.

Read the full report here.