South Salt Lake to explore creation of independent citizen police review board

(Photo courtesy Natalie Pinkney) Natalie Pinkney, 26, was elected last November to serve on the South Salt Lake City Council. She has long been interested in police reform and is leading an effort to evaluate her city's practices and training.

Amid national and local unrest over racialized policing and officer brutality, South Salt Lake will explore the creation of an independent citizen review board to probe complaints against its officers and initiate an evaluation of several department policies and practices.

Who does data show police are stopping? How are officers working to divert people away from jail? How do the trainings someone must complete before putting on a badge address culture, race, disability, housing status and other implicit biases?

Those are some of the questions South Salt Lake City Councilwoman Natalie Pinkney wants answers to.

To get them, she’s asking the police department to fill out a survey created by Local Progress — a national network for progressive elected officials — that’s meant to help evaluate police practices across 12 categories, from data collection to community-led training.

“It looks at what are we currently doing and then we’ll be able from there to make an evaluation on prohibiting some aspects of policy,” she said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday.

Pinkney has the support of Mayor Cherie Wood, who in her comments to the council on Wednesday said she was also in favor of creating a civilian review board and ensuring “that every South Salt Lake policy is reviewed through a community-based lens of diversity and inclusion.”

“We will implement necessary changes to community action surrounding systemic issues of racial, gender, and other inequality and bias,” she said in a statement read at the meeting. “We have no tolerance for racial or any other injustice in South Salt Lake. Everyone deserves to feel safe no matter the color of your skin, your gender or identity. Our work will not be finished until we all feel safe.”

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) South Salt Lake Mayor, Cherie Wood makes a few comments at the celebration of the new double-track rail line for the S-Line Sugar House Streetcar, April 5, 2019.

While Utah municipalities have the power to create civilian review boards, they’re not allowed to give them much power or the ability to discipline officers under a bill state lawmakers passed in 2019.

That preemption was a direct reaction to a 2018 proposal from Utah Against Police Brutality, which was pushing the Salt Lake City Council to consider a new ordinance that would replace its Police Civilian Review Board with a democratically elected one that had the power to strike down old policies and veto the choice of police chief and new law enforcement rules.

As South Salt Lake looks to create its own review board, Wood said she and Pinkney plan to sit down at the end of next week with Police Chief Jack Carruth and Council Chairwoman Sharla Bynum to discuss current practices in the department, including the anti-bias and de-escalation training programs she says are already in place.

“We have excellent protocols in place and I am proud to lead a public safety team that honors diversity,” she said. “We are often commended as one of the best police departments in the state of Utah. I want to make sure our reputation for sensitivity and respect for all our residents is earned, not taken for granted.”

Danielle Croyle, a spokeswoman for the city police department, told The Tribune on Thursday that the chief is “open-minded about some of the concerns and is willing to address” them.

Pinkney, who took office in January as the first black woman elected to the City Council, noted that her request for more information from the police department isn’t a mandate. And while she’d like any necessary changes to happen quickly, she said there’s no specific timeline for the department to respond.

“I want this to be a conversation,” she said. “I don’t want it to feel like something they have to do. I want it to be something they want to do. With a lot of police reform, people think it’s something bad for police officers, like they’re being reprimanded. But it actually is based off best practices and it is something that helps them do better policing.”

The move to reevaluate how the police department interacts with its residents comes after days of protests nationally and in Salt Lake City over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. A Saturday demonstration in Salt Lake City turned violent, as protesters set two cars on fire and threw rocks at the windows of businesses and cars while police responded with rubber bullets and arrests.

Pinkney says she’s wanted to tackle police reform since she was elected. But she hopes the current widespread attention on issues around race and policing will lend a sense of urgency to the cause.

“I think the bigger conversation that we’re having, it’s about police but it’s also about systematic racism, and that’s why police reform has always been a priority for me because it’s addressing systematic racism,” she said. “I think it is the perfect moment right now and I’m hoping in this moment we have real change and it’s not just conversation. I think this time is different.”

South Salt Lake is one of the most diverse cities in the state, with nearly half of all residents coming from other countries and representing “a variety of cultures, races, incomes and experiences,” Wood told the council.

And she’s calling not only for the help of public officials in improving policing but also for residents to share their firsthand experiences as part of the dialogue.

“The first step is to listen with an open mind and without judgment,” she said. “To do this, I ask South Salt Lake residents to speak up, honestly and from the heart, about what you experience and witness. Until we have a deep understanding, we cannot begin to address concerns.”