Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announces police reforms, including stricter rules on bodycams and de-escalation efforts

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall talks with Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown after announcing updates to SLCPD policies, during news conference at City Hall, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed an executive order Monday afternoon requiring several changes to Salt Lake City Police Department policies.

The amendments strengthen requirements for body-worn cameras, create narrower parameters for when police can use force, and require a person’s consent for searches without warrants. Although many of the policies are vague and contain caveats, police officials will likely fill in details over the coming weeks. The order directs the police department to implement the reforms by Sept. 5.

The executive order requires officers to use de-escalation techniques before using force or making an arrest. It also requires two levels of review in every use-of-force situation, not just cases that involve injury. The order calls for a stronger duty to intervene when police observe fellow officers about to use force that is illegal or excessive. It prohibits deadly force if officers are trying to prevent someone from self-harm if that person does not pose an immediate threat to officers.

The order requires officers to get written consent to search vehicles and property without a warrant, or verbal consent if the officers record it with a body camera. Although not specified in the mayor’s executive order, Mendenhall said police officers will need to obtain a signature on a consent form.

“Which will now be updated to be easier to understand [and] translated into the languages most commonly spoken in our city,” Mendenhall said. “Right now, that form is effectively only available in English.”

Finally, the mayor’s directive calls for discipline when officers fail to activate body cameras or intentionally deactivate them.

The full executive order is included below (story continues after the document):

Although the reforms came as an official order from the mayor’s office, Mendenhall said she worked closely with the police department as she developed them.

“They were intrinsically involved,” Mendenhall said at a news conference announcing her directive. “It doesn’t do any good for a mayor to come out and issue orders of policing policy change without working with the police department to understand what those impacts will be.”

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said his department looked at “model policies” from around the nation as they drafted the reforms.

“Some of these policy revisions reflect national best practices,” he said. “Others will be seen as a new gold standard of policing with Salt Lake City Police Department leading the way.”

Mendenhall also noted that Monday’s order was only the beginning of her administration’s plans to overhaul policing in Salt Lake City. In coming months, elected officials will work with the newly formed Commission on Racial Equity and Policing to develop more changes to the policing budget, policies and culture.

Absent from Monday’s executive order were changes to the police department’s no-knock warrant policy, which Mendenhall previously told The Salt Lake Tribune she was eyeing for an overhaul.

“No-knock warrants is something we’re still working on,” Mendenhall said, again emphasizing that additional reforms are in the works. “That’s on the list.”

The mayor made her announcement outside City Hall, which had lingering reminders of weeks’ worth of protests over the spring and summer over police violence and racial inequity. Yellow paint still covered a window. A “Black Lives Matter” poster hung high above a door. A “Justice for Bernardo” sign remained taped to a pillar.

Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal died after officers shot at him dozens of times while he ran away, repeatedly dropping and retrieving what police said was a gun. City residents saw it as an excessive use of force by law enforcement, not unlike the death of George Floyd, who cried out and suffocated as a Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck.

Brown, the police chief, declined to say whether Monday’s reforms would have resulted in a different outcome for Palacios-Carbajal.

“I hesitate to answer that right now because we haven’t fully vetted these out. There’s work to be done, there’s more discussion to be had,” Brown said. “There might be a time where you can sit down and de-escalate, but there may be a time when it is completely unreasonable.”

He said the numerous downtown protests had taken a toll on city police.

“I think we had almost 60 nights of continual protests through a long, hot summer, that’s very taxing and draining to officers,” Brown said. “[But] they love this organization, and more importantly, they love the community of Salt Lake.”

The police chief said change and evolution was a “pillar” of the department’s training and became emotional as he described officers’ commitment to best policing practices.

“We are an outstanding organization,” Brown said. “I challenge anyone to do it better than Salt Lake City Police Department.”

Mendenhall thanked both the police department and the many protesters and residents who shared their demands for law enforcement reform. She acknowledged the past few months had been difficult for the city, but those struggles paled in comparison to the “lifetime” of anxiety and fear that people of color live with throughout the country.

“As a younger person, protesting was the that path I took when I wanted to see change, and it led me to policy-making,” Mendenhall said. “Let’s continue on this path of progress as a community that is united.”