SALT LAKE CITY — After Saturday’s protests in downtown Salt Lake City turned violent, Mayor Erin Mendenhall asked that any citizen who felt he or she had been mistreated by police to file a complaint with the Citizen Review Board to examine any case of inappropriate use of force.
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in Utah is angered by the mayor’s request.
Brent Jex, the state president of FOP, joined Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega to talk about the police union’s letter concerning the mayor’s comments at a Sunday news conference alongside city Police Chief Mike Brown.
“We welcome the criticism and critique in a positive fashion,” Brown said, adding that he would like to have critical and positive conversations with the public.
Police union response
“Do police officers feel used by the mayor of Salt Lake City?” Debbie asked Jex.
“Absolutely,” he said. Watching the video of the protests, “You see on-duty officers responding throughout the [Salt Lake] County, neighboring counties. You saw off-duty guys. They left their families. They left barbecues. They left everything to rush down there. And you know what? They would do it again and again, regardless of what anybody says, regardless of what complaints come in from this mob.”
Jex mentioned the Utah Highway Patrol troopers who stood on the Capitol steps with riot gear to defend it against protesters who hurled objects at them.
After witnessing the sacrifices made by law enforcement during the protest and ensuing violence, he said it was “a slap in the face” to wake up on Sunday and hear the mayor’s comments.
“In your letter, you were extremely critical by name of Mayor Mendenhall. What was it specifically that the mayor did not do right in your opinion?” Dave asked.
“In our opinion it should have been the recognition of the sacrifice of the officers,” said Jex.
“Just a little bit of gratitude”
Twenty-one officers were treated for medical issues from Saturday’s protests, the most common heat exhaustion, Chief Brown said.
“I know there were other officers who received injuries but didn’t report it because they wanted to stay in the fight. They didn’t want to give up,” Jex said. “A little bit of appreciation from [Mendenhall] would have been nice rather than trying to capitulate to whatever propaganda machine that she seems to be wanting to report to.
“Just a little bit of gratitude for the sacrifices made. We don’t ask for much just not a slap in the face after everything that was given,” Jex said.
Police arrested 46 people, most of them accused of failing to disperse. Some were arrested on suspicion of assaulting police officers and others for alleged curfew violations. Others had additional arrest charges for investigation of disorderly conduct, violating curfew and drug possession.
The chief said he suspected that many of those arrested were not from the area, according to a Deseret News report, though as of late Monday afternoon, it appears most are Utahns.
“Do you think that her [Mendenhall’s] words will stop police in the future from responding so quickly to [Salt Lake City Police Department’s] call for help? Or other officers from other jurisdictions from racing in the way they did on Saturday night?” Debbie asked.
“Not at all because that’s not what we are in it for, ” Jex said. “We don’t gauge it by what people think of us. If we wanted to be liked by everyone, we would’ve been firemen. Cops are going to race in there again because we have brothers and sisters in Salt Lake City, and we’re not going to leave them hanging.
“It doesn’t matter what politicians feel about us. We’re not there for the politicians. We’re there for the citizens,” Jex said.
“Does she [Mendenhall] owe the police an apology?” Dave asked.
“I think so. She doesn’t owe the FOP an apology. She owes the officers who were down there. She owes their families an apology for not prioritizing them over anarchists,” Rex said. “We’re willing to move past it. There are bigger things at issue.”
“Are you suggesting that she should not have called for complaints against police officers in a press conference on Sunday morning?” Debbie asked.
“I think a lot of it is in the wording. If she wanted to truly solicit any wrongdoings by anybody, then she should have asked anybody who witnessed a crime to report that, and police brutality is a crime.
“We’re seeing evidence of that in Minnesota,” he said. “That officer is rightly being charged. But that’s not what she asked for. She asked for anyone who believes police acted irresponsibly or were aggressive. . . She didn’t ask officers ‘Hey if you recognize somebody, please let me know so we can go after those who completely destroyed our city.’ There are ways to ask for it, and she just failed on that.”
“You’re facing stark criticism from FOP. They said you’re fishing for complaints. Are you?” Dave asked Mayor Mendenhall.
“Our Salt Lake City Police Department has done an incredible job,” she said. “They did an amazing job of keeping the peace alongside dozens of other agencies. . . If there is any police officer who took my words for criticism against their actions on Saturday night, then I am sincerely sorry,” she said.
Mendenhall said her sole intention was to let the public know that the SLCPD police are here to serve and protect.
“The Police Department is willing to hear from the public in the spirit of transparency. It’s not about taking sides with the protesters or soliciting criticism of our officers,” Mendenhall said.
“You were calling on complaints against police officers, but where were your calls for tips for people who had caused arson in the streets, who beat police, had tagged buildings and destroyed our iconic state Capitol?” Debbie asked.
“I appreciate that feedback. . . If there was some assertion that we didn’t want information about the destruction that has taken place or the investigations that are unfolding, then that’s a pretty sad misunderstanding. I apologize if that’s the way it was taken,” Mendenhall said.
She said transparency is the best way to support police. She added she is confident the police department will learn and evolve from any mistakes.
“Do you feel you miscalculated how violent this could’ve turned?” Dave asked.
“I work with our police chief. But when it comes to time to plan and coordinate for a protest or even potential violent uprising, that’s the job of the police chief. . . I was in no way directing the police department when to go in or when not to go in. That’s a police decision,” the mayor said.
Debbie pointed out that one of the criticism of the mayor from FOP was she on Zoom calls during a press conference and not on the street during the violence as was Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera.
“How do you defend kind of staying holed up behind the camera?” Debbie asked.
“It’s funny even the president of our local police union has advised me to rely on the police detail and the security decisions by our police department on where I should and shouldn’t be,” Mendenhall said.
She added she did not want to become the focus of the protest.
“Putting me out there was not something our Police Department wanted. They definitely didn’t want me down there to distract from the work they needed to do to keep the peace,” the mayor said.
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