SALT LAKE CITY – Morale is reportedly tanking in police departments across the country, and officers in Salt Lake City say they’re not immune to this problem. They’ve been seeing an unusually high number of officers quitting over the past few weeks.
The departures began shortly after the protest over George Floyd’s death turned violent in downtown Salt Lake City in late May. Since then, some officers are talking about retiring if they’ve served long enough, some officers are going back to other agencies and others are just quitting, altogether.
The possible impact of Salt Lake police officers quitting
“We’ve had four officers that have resigned and another that has retired,” according to SLC Detective Greg Wilking. “We might have one or two in an entire year, but four in a couple of weeks is significant.”
Wilking says each officer has a different reason for leaving, and he isn’t specifying if the resignations are regarding anger over the Bernardo Palacios shooting or if they feel like the community has turned on them. However, he says morale in the department is way down across the board, and officers don’t seem to be getting much support from elected officials.
He also says a large number of people are trying to show their support to the department after seeing rocks, bats, tire irons, and other items thrown at them during the violent protest, but city officials don’t seem to be listening.
“I think this is going to be a problem going forward in getting people to come to this profession,” Wilking professed.
Wilking says if the city wants to attract good candidates to be police officers in the future, defunding the department would be a massive mistake. He predicts fewer people will want to join the force if salaries are cut and retirement options are taken away. Wilking states younger officers are especially doubtful over their safety.
“They’re wondering if they’re going to be facing this kind of backlash and open hostility for the next 22-23 years. Is it worth it?”
Wilking says the department is also receiving scripted calls from out of state, demanding they make major changes to their policies. City council members claim they’re getting massive amounts of calls, too.
“The comments have covered the spectrum of options and we want to reassure the public that your comments are part of the public record and have been shared with all council members,” according to Salt Lake City Council Chair Chris Wharton at the beginning of Tuesday’s work meeting.
Wharton acknowledges some people want to defund the police, others want to dismantle the department altogether and others want to increase tools for police accountability. Wharton says they’re considering every option.
“Part of what we do during our work session is take all of the different ideas, requests, demands and pleas from your comments and try to weave them together,” he said.
SLCPD Cheif Mike Brown responds to officers quitting
It’s becoming harder for Salt Lake City police chief Mike Brown to juggle all the moving pieces. On Tuesday, four Salt Lake City police officers had resigned from the force and one officer has retired.
Cheif Mike Brown spoke exclusively with KSL NewsRadio’s Dave and Dujanovic on Wednesday morning about the resignations and his concerns moving forward.
“We’ve had 5 officers [resign], two of which were officers of color,” said Brown. Chief Brown said he’s had a chance to speak with departing officers about what drove their decision to leave the department.
“Three [officers] I talked with were young in their careers. It was in support of their families. They felt like they could go on and get an education and get into a different career,” said Brown.
Brown mentioned he can’t fault the officers for wanting to take a different career path but it does cause some concern when it comes to not having enough officers to respond to emergencies.
“This job is highly scrutinized,” said Brown, “but despite everything that’s been going on, our officers have answered every call and showed up every day to work.”
While it’s still not totally clear why these officers decided to resign, Brown says it’s not out of fear of liability nor are they protesting the police department.
Additionally, the Salt Lake Police Department (SLCPD) is facing an upcoming budget cut.
Salt Lake City Council voted on Tuesday to slash SLCPD funding by over $5 million. Protesters have been calling for police funds to be reallocated towards social workers to assist officers.
However, Brown says the SLCPD has been giving money to social workers for about four years through its Community Connections Center.
Brown says social workers have been assisting officers to interact with “those who might be experiencing homelessness, people with addiction issues, and mental health issues.”
The chief stated they’re willing to work with social workers to address social issues such as substance abuse and mental illness.
SLCPD may have lost a few bodies but are hoping to hire officers within the coming weeks.
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