Erin Mendenhall: Salt Lake City has made real progress on racial equity and justice

More has been done in the pursuit of racial equity last year than during any period in our city’s history.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, left, and Darlene McDonald bump fists as the Salt Lake City Racial and Equity in Policing Commission holds a press conference at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, following the guilty verdict on all three counts in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

In the year since protestors marched for racial equity and justice, Salt Lake City has made real progress in building a more just and equitable police department, reducing the use of force by police officers and evolving the way we serve this city’s residents.

While the days and weeks following the death of George Floyd may have been tough for our city, they were nothing compared to the injustice that people of color in Utah and across the country experience every day throughout our nation and have experienced for generations.

Last year called more loudly and clearly than ever before on leaders to reflect on the systems in place, identify the ways in which those systems have a disproportionately negative impact on our communities of color, and how we in positions of power can change them.

As mayor of Salt Lake City, it is both my honor and responsibility to do that work that has been long overdue.

And while this is ongoing work, in reflecting on the last year I am proud of the progress we have made in our City, and I believe we can be an example to cities everywhere on what reform and progress can look like.

Last year, I ordered significant reforms to how the Salt Lake City Police Department serves and protects this city. They were the first set of true reforms to the department in our city’s history. These changes included a more restrictive use-of-force policy, stronger requirements for use of body cameras and requirements for de-escalation prior to force.

These reforms may be common sense on paper, but in the last six months they’ve translated into actual results, with data showing that use of force has declined 15 percent when compared with the six months prior.

These numbers are not just a testament to the effectiveness of reform, they’re also a reflection of the deep commitment our officers have to the residents of this city. When called upon to evolve, they’ve stepped up to the plate.

Not a week goes by where I don’t see their evolution in action in our department’s watch log — a recap of the day’s select cases available at www.slcpd.com. Officers are consistently de-escalating and relying on less lethal alternatives — and it’s making a difference. I commend them.

Last year we also convened the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing, and if you’ve watched their work, you’ll know they’ve made great progress in their task of reviewing the Salt Lake City Police Department’s policies, budget and culture. They’ve helped our city make thoughtful changes in how police work is done.

They’ve also guided some of my budget recommendations for the upcoming year, including funding for six additional social workers to ensure we have a mental-health professional on duty almost round-the-clock to respond to 911 calls where they might be able to do more good than a police officer alone.

Based on their feedback, I also proposed over $200,000 for additional equity, inclusion and diversity training and crisis intervention training for our department, and the creation of a new senior-level position in my office to liaise with our education partners on equity and justice issues, including how school resource officers work. I’m also requesting $20,000 for the Peer Court program, which offers alternative ways for youth to be held accountable for their actions outside of the criminal justice system.

And finally, we hired the first chief equity officer in the history of Salt Lake City. Kaletta Lynch is charged with bringing equity into the center of our work with solutions that level the playing field, so every resident has the opportunity to thrive in our city.

As I look back on all of this work, I have more hope for our future than ever before. More has been done in the pursuit of racial equity last year than during any period in our city’s history.

But the marking of one year since May 30, 2020, is not a finish line.

This is the work of a generation and we have only embarked on our first step.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mayor Erin Mendenhall, June 5, 2020.

Erin Mendenhall is the mayor of Salt Lake City.

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