Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Wednesday introduced new policing initiatives and announced grant funding to create 10 new officer positions as part of the city’s updated 2021 crime control plan.
The updated 17-page plan details four overall goals: lower crime, improve response times, fill officer vacancies and build on community relationships. The 2021 plan was initially released in January, but the updates announced Wednesday were developed as police worked to reassess and implement parts of it.
“We are fundamentally concerned about the everyday quality of life for our residents,” Mendenhall said Wednesday. “We are encouraged by the plan that we have... But I’ll tell you that we’re still unsatisfied. And I am driven, as the mayor, to increasing that quality of life.”
The new, grant-funded positions give the police department the capacity to hire a “historic high” of 581 officers, Brown said.
To accomplish the plan’s four key goals, the department plans to offer new incentives to help fill officer vacancies, a key component to combatting lagging response times, officials said.
Over the summer, Mendenhall announced pay raises of 30% for entry-level officers and 12% increase for senior-level officers. Around that time, the department had 91 vacancies for patrol officers and has since filled 36 positions. Brown said the department aims to fill all positions by June 30.
The new incentives include providing bonuses to current officers who refer a lateral officer — a Utah police officer with at least one year of experience — who is successfully hired at SLCPD, with the current officer subject to an employment agreement for a minimum length of service.
Housing also will be incentivized, according to the report, with the chief planning to work with city agencies and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist with mortgage payments for new, entry-level officers who may be first-time homebuyers.
The department’s take-home car policy will also be expanded for officers who live within a 60-mile radius of the city, the plan states. The current policy set by city ordinance only allows officers who live within a 35-mile radius of the city to take home their city-issued vehicle, requiring them to pay a $3 per-mile usage fee. The fee will remain the same upon expansion, the plan notes.
“It was a difficult year, I won’t sugarcoat it — it was difficult,” Brown said Wednesday. “The morale was low. But the strength of this organization and those officers, they stayed with us, they’re still here today. And everything that we have thrown to them — the mayor, and her raises — has been a godsend. They feel appreciated.”
“Now there’s still things that we need to overcome,” Brown continued, “but we are working every day to improve that morale.”
The updated plan includes directing people reporting low-priority calls away from 911, by either filing reports online or over a non-emergency line.
According to the plan, people can currently report harassing phone calls, lost property, theft, vandalism, car prowls and other low-level crimes to Salt Lake City police online.
To increase access to online reporting, the department is considering installing computer terminals in public areas including the Public Safety Building for those without access to a computer or the internet.
A new police civilian response team also will take telephonic police reports on low-level calls that don’t require an officer response. The department posted an application for the program on Oct. 14, and has already received 10 applicants, Brown said.
“A lot of times, people call the police when they don’t have any other resource to turn to,” Brown said, “and we’ve been working with dispatch and our 911 if there isn’t a better avenue or a better resource for us to divert that call to.”
Brown said agencies other than police may begin responding to some calls in cases where such agencies may be better equipped to respond than officers, including mental health crises that don’t involve aggression or a weapon.
The department also plans to hire a business community engagement officer, who will be tasked with coordinating with business owners and operators to address low-level crimes.
“Our demands, through the call volume and the nature of our capital city’s needs, are so big, they’re so grand really, that we have to start diverting people to use these other resources,” Mendenhall said, noting that it will “take time for us to shift the culture.”
Further plans include the implementation of a 10-member violent crimes task force and utilizing a volunteer corp to help the department with duties including traffic direction or proactive welfare checks.
The department also plans to target resources toward reducing illegal camping, increasing service resources and reducing crime in encampment areas.
“It’s better that we have 17 pages of a plan, rather than walking out and saying, ‘We just need more police officers, there’s not enough police officers,’” Mendenhall said. “This is a dynamic, intelligent police department who understands that while we have the best police officers in the country, they are not the best response to every call for service that 911 receives.”