Utah Rep. Burgess Owens went on Fox News Monday and falsely claimed that Salt Lake City “defunded” its police by $5 million, and seemed to connect that to an increase in murders.
Asked by a show anchor how Owens and the rest of the Republican Party intended to use “rising anti-cop sentiment” to take back the U.S. House of Representatives in 2022, Owens said he intended to get a message out to Americans on what he called a “betrayal” by the left.
“My city of Salt Lake City,” Owens said, “they defunded [police] by $5 million and the murder rate went up 40%.”
What are the facts about the Salt Lake City police budget?
The Salt Lake City Council did make an adjustment to its budget in reaction to hours of emotional public comments and a flood of emails last year about police funding, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. But the department wasn’t “defunded,” as Owens claimed.
About $2.5 million dedicated to social workers was moved off the police department’s ledger — although those employees continued to work for the police with the same amount of funding.
Another $2.8 million went into a holding account, but it was not removed from the police budget. The council formed a City Commission on Racial Equity and Policing to provide input on the department’s future while those funds are on pause.
And the council also increased funding for some department expenses, such as providing body cameras for every officer.
All said, the department’s $79.1 million budget was down about $3 million compared to the year before — and that year, Salt Lake City police notably had the most funding the department has had to date, at $82.2 million.
What are the facts about murders in Salt Lake City?
Salt Lake City’s homicide rate is low enough that even a few additional deaths can make the rate appear to spike.
During the year from April 2020 until last month, for example, there were 16 homicides, according to Salt Lake City Police data. The year before that, for the same period, there were 12 homicides, which equals an increase of 33%. But it’s also only four additional deaths in a city of 200,000 people.
It’s unclear where Owens got the 40% increase in murder rate figure — his office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
“It would be very difficult to say if budget restructuring is the cause for whatever increase there may have been,” a Salt Lake City Police spokesperson said.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported in December that homicides in the city had gone up for the past two calendar years, with 14 homicides in 2019 and 15 in 2020.
The city’s five-year average was 10.6 homicides, so the 15 cases reported in 2020 represented a 41.5% increase compared to that multiyear average. The city’s fiscal year begins in June, so the 2020 budget adjustment would not have been effective until June 2020.
And in the 2019 fiscal year, which covered the last half of 2019 and the first half of 2020, the Salt Lake City Police budget was set at the $82.2 million mark that represented the most funding it has ever had.
Owens added in his Fox News interview Monday that anti-police sentiment was harming minority communities and “those who can’t afford to protect themselves.”
“This is what the ideology of the left is all about. It’s causing chaos, it’s causing misery, disrespect for those on the front line to stand between good and evil,” he said. “... Our society, our culture is under attack. It’s the Biden blitz.”
City Council chair Amy Fowler and Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who are currently working on the city’s budget for the coming fiscal year, declined to comment. Watch the full Fox News clip below.
This story has been updated to include additional details about Salt Lake City budget and homicide figures. Salt Lake Tribune reporter Bryan Schott contributed to this story.