Carly Haldeman, a community organizer with the group Utah Against Police Brutality, grew visibly frustrated Monday afternoon as she stood outside Salt Lake City Hall and detailed a number of recent instances she said highlight police brutality in the city and state.
Of the seven officer-involved shootings in Utah this year, in a county that identifies as 72 percent white, at least four involved people of color. Three of those people died. But none of the officers involved in recent incidents, Haldeman said, has faced any consequences — a reality she said demonstrates a lack of accountability within the system.
“We cannot allow the police to police themselves any longer,” she said at a news conference held by Utah Against Police Brutality.
The organization is pushing for the Salt Lake City Council to consider a new ordinance that would create a democratically elected seven-member board it says would hold the city’s Police Department accountable.
In a 23-page document outlining the Salt Lake City Police Accountability Council’s desired roles and responsibilities, the group said it wants the power to veto the choice of police chief, as well as new police policies and to strike down old ones. Members also want video of any incident under investigation posted within 48 hours, except in some cases when 14 days would be the maximum. They want to be able to direct the police chief to fire or discipline any officer, and though he or she may appeal, they want to have final say on the decision. And they want to do all that with a budget of 3 percent of whatever the city appropriates for the police force.
“What this is is [an ordinance] that gives real teeth, real power to hold police accountable to fight back against police misconduct and to have real community control over the people who have the power over our lives and our deaths,” said David Newlin, an organizer with Utah Against Police Brutality.
Seven organizations have endorsed the proposal, including the local Black Lives Matter organization, the Green Party of Utah and the Salt Lake Democratic Socialists of America.
Newlin, a former Salt Lake Tribune employee, said the group plans to sit down with the City Council “as soon as possible” but hasn’t yet had a formal meeting to talk about the proposal. He declined to provide a timeline for getting the proposal before the council.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said in a statement that while the department is open to considering changes proposed from the community, it already accomplishes much of what the group is asking for through its “established organizations and processes.”
One of those includes Salt Lake City’s independent Civilian Police Review Board, instituted by former Mayor Rocky Anderson. The board can make rulings on whether an officer acted outside official policy but cannot dole out discipline. And activists have called previously for more autonomy for the civilian group that reviews the Police Department’s actions.
“They can investigate a little bit, they can make a recommendation, but they have no real power whatsoever," Newlin said, "so we want to create a body that would have real power” to fire and discipline officers.
Brown also cited officer-involved incident protocol, which oversees investigations “professionally, thoroughly and impartially”; internal processes for taking and investigating complaints; and the existence of the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office, which independently reviews all critical-incident cases, as ways the department works to serve the city with “transparency and accountability.”
Organizers with Black Lives Matter and Utah Against Police Brutality have previously indicated a desire to push for reforms similar to the proposal they unveiled Monday through legislation at the state level. But UAPB now hopes to generate movement on the local level first, starting with Salt Lake City and then moving on to other municipalities.
“We just sort of felt that doing this at the state level would be even too much of an uphill battle,” said Newlin, citing the large majority of Republican lawmakers in Utah’s Legislature. “And they’re all very, very pro-police. That’s a very difficult mountain to climb. The Salt Lake City mountain is still going to be very difficult, but it’s not quite as difficult.”
If officers feel threatened, they may use lethal force under state law, even if they do not see a weapon. District Attorney Sim Gill, who has been criticized for not pressing charges in some officer-involved shootings, has said: “If we want to change outcomes and enhance accountability, we have to change the law.”
Salt Lake City police Officer Bron Cruz was not charged in the shooting of Dillon Taylor, 20, who was killed Aug. 11, 2014. Taylor, who was white, had his hand in his pants. It turned out he was not armed, but Cruz said he believed Taylor was about to shoot him.
Gina Thayne, Taylor’s aunt, spoke at the news conference and expressed support for Utah Against Police Brutality’s initiative.
“I really believe that we need the community to have some say in what happens,” she said. “We walk these streets and we’re losing our children and we’re losing our lives and our dignity — and yet our police officers are still walking around with an arrogant power that no one can change because they have a badge.”