The Salt Lake City Police Foundation Board of Directors: Improving policing takes more than PR stunts

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown, center, takes a knee as he is joined by Robert Jenkins, left, and Aristide Gateretse, showing support of demonstrators protesting against police brutality on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in downtown Salt Lake City, at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building as the initially set 8 p.m. weeklong curfew was removed.

On May 23, Salt Lake City Police officers fired at Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal more than 20 times. It happened in the context of a vigorous race and culture war that continues to rage today. It gave a local face to a national protest.

Our cultural icons foreshadow these problems, with comedian Chris Rock saying, in 2018, “Whenever the cops gun down an innocent black man, they always say the same thing. ‘Well, it’s not most cops. It’s just a few bad apples. ... But some jobs can’t have bad apples. American Airlines can’t be like, ‘Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains.”

In a political landscape where establishment Democrats are losing primaries to shameless socialists, and conservative Republicanism is struggling to be louder than fascism to its right, nuance in policy discourse is drowned out.

The reality is some airlines have better safety records than others, and some police departments have better community engagement than others. Some cops are racists and the combination of badge and gun weaponizes their darkest instincts. Other cops voluntarily leave their families every day to confront violent drug dealers, murders and rapists.

This nuance can’t be articulated in 140 characters, the Facebook echo chamber, or over bullhorns. These conversations happen in policy-making spaces at the intersection of lawmakers, constituents and the police departments.

In fact, the populist police defunding movement is a gross simplification of a sophisticated social theory. Alex Vitale is an academic sociologist, and the author of “The End of Policing,” which is viewed as the modern authority for the police defunding movement.

In an interview with NPR on June 3, he said “I’m certainly not talking about any kind of scenario where tomorrow someone just flips a switch and there are no police. What I’m talking about is the systematic questioning of the specific roles that police currently undertake, and attempting to develop evidence-based alternatives so that we can dial back our reliance on them.”

The Salt Lake City Police Department started a similarly nuanced and inquisitive effort, prior to the recent deaths of Palacios-Carbajal and George Floyd. It formed the Salt Lake City Police Foundation.

We are nonpartisan group of civilian, community leaders ranging from litigators to restaurant owners. We meet with Chief Mike Brown on a monthly basis in an effort to bridge the gap between people and shield. These measures aren’t a feel-good, PR stunt. If they were, you would’ve seen billboards touting them.

The foundation’s work thrives on the department’s interpretation of modern policing by seeking input from the community it protects. It is more than the guns and handcuffs that extend from the law; it is a communal-engagement asset aimed at achieving the social prerogative of safety, peace and justice, while vigorously guarding the individual freedoms of each person in the community.

Chief Brown and the foundation engage community strongholds such as parks, places of worship, schools and shelters. The foundation’s efforts resulted in thousands of hours of training and volunteer service, interfacing directly with all ages, genders and races of people in the community, including undocumented immigrants.

Through foundation programs such as Pay It Forward, Promising Youth Project and Explorers, the foundation acts as the Department’s pulse check on the community.

Planes crash. Do we stop flying? No. We investigate and hold those who are responsible accountable. If there is a systemic problem, we identify and change it. In diagnosing and changing the system, the foundation’s community engagement model in Salt Lake City is working.

The Salt Lake City Police Foundation Board of Directors: JR Howa, chairman, Mountain West Commercial Real Estate; Richard Burbidge, Burbidge | Mitchell; Terrell W. Smith, Michael Best & Friedrich LLP; Allison Looney Swillinger, Chevron Corporation; Todd Grabner, Northwestern Mutual; Missy Greis, Publik Coffee Roasters; Kelly LaDue, Astrid Consulting; David Lang, Goldman Sachs; John Miller, Mark Miller Toyota; Nico Priskos, InterNet Properties; Randall L. Rigby, Utah Jazz; Taymour Semnani, SK Hart Management, LLC.