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How can Salt Lake City improve its police? For starters, experts say, schedule crisis teams at night.

Audit finds gaps in department’s mental health response, financial reporting and officer accountability.

(Rick Egan | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Salt Lake City police warn a protester not to take a step farther as crowds are pushed back during a protest of the police killing of George Floyd last year. A consulting firm has recommended way Salt Lake City can improve its police department.

Mere hours after a jury issued its verdict against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer found guilty of murdering George Floyd, the Salt Lake City Council received a draft audit report of its own police officers’ practices and budget.

The council commissioned the audit less than a month after Floyd’s 2020 death spurred massive demonstrations and demands for police reforms, including in Utah’s capital.

Salt Lake City police received more scrutiny and impassioned protests after officers gunned down Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, shot and wounded a 13-year-old autistic boy while he was having a mental health episode, and used a police dog to attack a Black man while he kneeled and complied with police orders.

Matrix Consulting Group, hired to review the police department’s policies and finances, presented its findings for over an hour at a council work session Tuesday. It recommended ways to improve accountability, expand responses to mental health calls, make officer discipline more transparent, and upgrade body camera practices.

“It’s really exactly what the council was hoping for,” council Chair Amy Fowler said in an interview Wednesday. “We wanted a deep dive into the police department so we could understand where we were spending money and how the department was operating.... We have a lot of great recommendations for both pieces there.”

A spokesperson for Salt Lake City police said the department has received the draft audit and looks forward to the final report being presented to the mayor and council.

How to close gaps in mental health response

One of the much-needed fixes revealed by the audit is a need for police to stagger shifts and provide better options for responding to mental health episodes.

The police department has a walk-in Community Connection Center, homeless outreach officers and crisis intervention members who work together and respond to mental health calls. However, the audit found that the bulk of suicide threats and psychiatric events happen in the evening and overnight, when the crisis intervention team is not on duty.

“There’s a clear mismatch between the hours they’re deployed and the hours in which these types of events that require their services are actually occurring,” said Ian Brady, a vice president of public safety consulting at Matrix.

(Image courtesy of Matrix Consulting Group and Salt Lake City) A police audit commissioned by the Salt Lake City Council found many mental health incidents occur in the evening, while crisis intervention teams work a shift from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The audit suggests redeploying these officers and updating shifts to cover more hours at night and on weekends. Fowler wants to deploy that change “sooner rather than later.”

“I’ve been questioning why we don’t have a team working in the evening,” she said. “Now, having this independent group saying you should restructure the hours here, well, yeah, we should.”

The audit also recommended adding more civilian community service officers to respond to nonemergency calls where a sworn officers is not needed. Matrix found that 14,303 calls to Salt Lake City police in 2019 could have been diverted to civilian responders. The group suggested the city hire 20 additional civilian community service positions to meet that demand, which would have the added benefit of reducing response times to all public safety calls.

Officer accountability

The review further found room for improvement with the department’s body camera policy. The City Council and Mayor Erin Mendenhall introduced body camera reforms last summer, including funding to provide and upgrade the technology for every officer, as well as stricter punishments for officers who intentionally fail to activate the devices.

The city’s current body camera policies are among the nation’s best, said John Scruggs, a public safety consultant with Matrix. The audit found officers properly turn on their body cameras 92% of the time.

The department internally reviews its body camera use five times a month, which Scruggs called inadequate.

“That’s a very low threshold,” said Scruggs, recommending 20 monthly camera reviews.

When it comes to disciplining officers or investigating them for misconduct, the Matrix consultants offered some praise. Of the officer complaints received, 44% came from within the department, which indicates a high level of internal accountability.

“We usually see [internal] numbers in the 20% range,” Scruggs said, “and a lot more that are community generated.”

He suggested the department develop a formalized matrix so its discipline response is consistent, including for minor complaints that don’t necessarily trigger a formal investigation.

The audit found the department lacks transparency in officer accountability as well. It called on SLCPD to post data about complaints involving officers, publish body camera audit results online, and make more information publicly available about use of force, including demographics. The department also falls short in completing internal investigations into complaints about officers who have quit or retired, noted the auditors, who pressed the city to ensure those reviews are finalized.

“It resolves the complaint,” Scruggs said, and “if that person is seeking employment in public safety somewhere else, at least there will be that record of it, and it will be a completed investigation.”

Financial transparency

The most complicated piece of the audit deals with police finances, Fowler said, and those recommendations will likely take the longest to review and implement.

“It will take some time,” she said, “but I think it will happen throughout this next year.”

The council intends to conduct a zero-based budgeting exercise, which disassembles the police budget, examines each part, then reassembles it so policymakers have a detailed understanding of how police finances work.

“It is basically taking out all of the funding, then rebuilding it according to your priorities,” Fowler said. “That’s really what we needed the audit for.”

To prepare for the exercise, Matrix recommended the police department better categorize and code its budgeted items and expenditures.

“The current approach to budgeting … [is] just not providing the level of detail or the transparency you need,” said Alan Pennington, a vice president with Matrix. “We’re not saying money is being misspent. We’re saying how it’s being reported within the budget doesn’t make it easy for you to group the total costs for [certain police] services.”

The group further recommended that police maintain a master list of contracts, especially short-term deals and better monitor one-time costs.

Matrix released a 142-page draft report focused specifically on police finances. To read that report, as well as the draft regarding policy and operations — and to review a slideshow summarizing the findings — visit the Racial Equity in Policing Commission website.

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