As Salt Lake City considers police reform, residents offer praise and stories of negative encounters

More than 1,000 people called in to Commission on Racial Equity in Policing event.

(Screen capture via Facebook) Members of Salt Lake City's Commission on Racial Equity in Policing, along with Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the City Council, hosted a virtual public listening session to gather feedback on law enforcement on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021.

Hundreds of people phoned, texted messages and posted social media comments during a public listening session gathering feedback about the Salt Lake City Police Department.

The city’s Commission on Racial Equity in Policing recently released a series of proposed reforms to the department, including for school resource officers. Some of those reforms include recruiting more diverse trainers and tightening up crisis intervention training requirements, but the commission held its listening session so the public had a chance to weigh in.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall, Police Chief Mike Brown, and numerous members of both the City Council and the commission joined the virtual event to listen to the thoughts of people who either live and work in Salt Lake City or who simply have an interest in the city’s policing.

“I’m getting quite comfortable with the vulnerability of not knowing everything and being willing to listen and rethink the status quo,” Mendenhall said, especially since the summer protests demanding law enforcement reform.

The mayor added that the listening session was a “a safe space” and that the community’s feedback is “not going to go into a binder on a shelf and do nothing.”

Most of the people who called in to comment declined to provide their full names. Some shared approval for the city’s police force.

“Each time you’ve been respectful and you’ve helped me a lot,” said one woman. “I had to call the police on my own son. I was really thankful that the police were patient and did not overreact.”

Another woman suggested people take getting pulled over by police “as a learning experience.”

“Before we point figures, we should perhaps open our ears and listen to what our police officers have to go through first,” the person said.

But others shared more troubling experiences.

One caller, who identified as autistic, said they once explained to officers that they had light sensitivity, but the police began flashing their headlights and using their flashlights to create a strobe effect.

“One got into my personal space without wearing a mask,” the person said, “and then proceeded to tell me how much he was proud of being an a--hole.”

Another person said she moved to Salt Lake City from another country and was too afraid to get a driver license.

“There is no way that, as an immigrant, I’m going to feel comfortable getting pulled over by police,” the person said. “I do not want to fear anymore. I’d rather be able to drive because it’s cold here, man.”

Another commenter said all her interactions with the police had been positive, but she worried about a lack of accountability in law enforcement.

“I know you’re doing your best to screen people so the bad apples don’t get through,” she said, “but when those bad apples [do] get through, they get protected.”

One asked what the city was doing about the spike in officers who quit the police department last year. Others offered suggestions like hiring refugees as police officers, requiring officers live in the jurisdictions where they serve or training police on cultural sensitivity.

City officials and commission members mostly did not respond to questions. Larry Schooler, a consultant hired as a facilitator for the commission, said it was because they wanted to include as many voices as possible during the listening session, which lasted just under two hours.

About 1,000 people called in to listen or participate, Schooler said, and about 850 people watched a livestream of the event on Facebook.

The commission is continuing to collect feedback from the public on its website at slcrepcommission.com.

“The comments you make there are as useful as the comments you shared tonight,” Schooler said.