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Utah Department of Public Safety identifies areas for possible police reforms

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Gary Herbert takes a moment to address the Multicultural Commission and Martin Luther King Jr. Commission as they meet at the State Office Building by the Utah Capitol on Thursday, July 16, 2020, to talk about ways to address systemic racism in the state. At right are Emma E. Houston, Chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission, Byron Russell, Co-Chair of the Multicultural Commission and Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City.

Utah’s Department of Public Safety has identified a list of 19 possible areas for police reform that center around the need for better data, police training and community outreach as well as possible policy changes to address systemic inequities.

Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson said at a Thursday meeting of the state’s Martin Luther King and Multicultural commissions that the items had come out of a series of listening sessions with advocacy groups, state committees and departments and community members — including some of those who have been involved in recent protests and demonstrations against police violence.

“No matter however many conversations and discussions we had, these were the main topics every time that came up,” he said, noting that the areas identified will guide conversations going forward.

The list — which comes amid a national reckoning over the role of police and officer interactions with people of color — indicates community support for municipal citizen review boards, efforts to recruit and retain more diverse officers within police forces, limits on police unions, demilitarization of police and de-escalation and implicit bias trainings for officers.

Anderson said the state has already begun training state troopers on implicit bias with the help of university professors throughout the state who are trained on that topic.

“And it’s been real. A real experience, even though the conversations may be a little bit raw,” he said at the meeting Thursday. “If you want to find offense, probably the troopers could but it’s good and that’s what we need and we embrace that.”

DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY’S 19 POLICE REFORM TOPICS FOR FURTHER DISCUSSION:

1. Ban on Chokeholds and Knee Holds

2. Use of Force / Continuum

3. Transparency to Officer Misconduct

4. Citizen Review Boards in Municipalities

5. Body Cams on Every Officer

6. More Exposure & Outreach to Underrepresented Communities

7. Recruiting & Retaining Diversity

8. Implicit Bias Training

9. De-Escalation Training

10. Diversity Training

11. Defund Police Organizations

12. Emotional & Mental Support for Officers

13. Data Driven Ethnic Justice

14. Demilitarization of Police

15. Limitations on Police Unions

16. Police Culture

17. Qualified Immunity

18. School to Prison Pipeline

19. School Resource Officer Program Evaluation

The list mirrors the sentiments community members involved in last month’s emergency meeting of the Martin Luther King and Multicultural commissions shared as part of a recent survey facilitated by the panels. Those priorities include creating limits on police use of force unless there’s an imminent threat of death or serious injury to an officer, enhanced use of body cameras and additional training within departments.

Other priorities outlined at Thursday’s meeting related to school reform, including enhancing teacher training on racism, bias, diversity and inclusion; improving quality of K-12 education for youth of color; and ending the school to prison pipeline.

The commissions unanimously adopted those priorities Thursday as a starting point for future policy work, while recognizing that several of the concepts will need to be more fleshed out in the coming months to create strategies for their implementation.

“We need to be able to come back to the community to say, ‘These were your priorities, help us engage in creating the strategies and the action plans so this is sustainable within the state of Utah,’” Emma Houston, chair of the Martin Luther King Commission, said at Thursday’s meeting. “This is not a one thing and done by Dec. 31 and we’re all happy now. It is a continuation. We are ingraining this work within all areas as it relates to our schools, as it relates to police reform as well.”

The meeting was a follow-up to last month’s emergency convening of the commissions, which Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called in the midst of national unrest 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.

While that meeting ended with little action, Herbert pointed to several tangible measures he’s taken in the 45 days since — including his direction to Utah Highway Patrol and state corrections officers to no longer use chokeholds on people in custody.

He also elevated Nubia Peña, director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, and Dustin Jansen, head of the Utah Bureau of Indian Affairs, to report directly to him and join his regular leadership meetings, ensuring an ongoing seat at the table.

That’s already made a difference, said Byron Russell, co-chair of the Multicultural Commission. He noted that those two are now in the room “making decisions on the economy and making decisions on safety and making decisions on education.”

Herbert also previously announced plans to provide implicit bias training to state government officials, beginning with his Cabinet and going through “each successive layer of leadership in our executive branch of government.”

The governor’s office provided more details about those efforts at Thursday’s meeting. Kim Cordova, executive director for the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, said the governor’s Cabinet members will participate in a 21-day anti-racism challenge put together by the YWCA Utah. The state has also engaged an international bias trainer, who will spend 90 minutes a week with senior leadership to train them around issues related to bias and diversity, equity and inclusion, Cordova said.

Herbert indicated Thursday that he plans to spend his last six months in office working toward addressing some of the disparities that exist for Utahns of color.

“I’m committed,” he said. “I’m going to continue to work hard. I want to make sure this is germinating, that we’re doing what you want to do, that we incorporate the 10 items you made a motion on here today and others that will come up.”

Comparing the state to a runner who’s almost at the starting blocks, Herbert said his commitment is “to get across that finish line in some form or fashion before I leave.”

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