SALT LAKE CITY – The Salt Lake City Council has been inundated with for weeks with hundreds of calls to stop a planned increase to the police budget and instead defund the department entirely.
While it’s unlikely that the Salt Lake City Police Department will be defunded, the council is eyeing changes to the budget, as well as rethinking officers’ responsibilities.
The council will go into more detail on the police budget during a special meeting on Thursday. But on Tuesday they signaled support for putting more money in a special account that would have more controls over how it is spent.
They are also looking at a one-time property tax increase to fund body cameras for every officer.
But the biggest change may come from the council reassessing the police’s responsibilities.
Councilmember Amy Fowler, who has worked as a public defender, wondered if there are some activities like jaywalking that could be turned into infractions or decriminalized.
“As a city, we have the opportunity to go through that criminal code and say, ‘What are some of the things that we can get rid of, and maybe make a civil fine, too?'” Fowler said.
Councilmember Darin Mano was one of many on the dais who said he would like to shift some of the police’s responsibilities to social services.
“Is it right that they’re trying to be the person that responds to people with substance abuse or mental health issues? And I think the answer, to me, is no,” Mano said.
Mano believes more spending on social services will ultimately reduce police calls.
Chief Mike Brown said he supports increasing the budget for social services.
He also denied that there is a problem with systemic racism in his department, but believes cutting the budget would be unwise.
“Every beat has a police officer in it. So, there is some ownership to that beat. But, really, these officers become part of the community at which they serve. If you’re going call to call to call, you never have that opportunity,” Brown said.
The chief also took questions from the council about police practices and denied that they use chokeholds, tear gas, or rubber bullets.
Even so, he wants to update department policy to explicitly ban those practices.
“We don’t do these things, but it should be stated in black and white [that] these are prohibited,” Brown said.
In fact on Wednesday, the Salt Lake City Police Department did formalize a few of its policies. Copies of portions of the policy manual, provided to KSL Newsradio, now explicitly state that “the use of tear gas on crowds is prohibited.”
The guidelines for chokeholds were also clarified. The SLCPD Policy Manual now states that “Officers are strictly prohibited from applying chokeholds or direct force to the mouth, neck, or throat that will intentionally compress the airway or restrict an individual’s ability to breathe unless the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death to the officer or other person(s).”
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