SALT LAKE CITY – Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued an executive order last week making major changes to the police department, including new rules on when officers can use deadly force.
Now, police officers are speaking out against the new rules, as well as charges that the department is racist.
During a news conference in front of the Public Safety building on Monday, Salt Lake Police Association board member Jon Fitisemanu, who is also a patrol officer, called many of the changes Mendenhall made “superfluous”.
“The order’s directed changes either already exist in department policy, Utah or federal law, or don’t materially change policies. For example, officers are already required to intercede if they observe a fellow officer using inappropriate force. The department already trains its officers in de-escalation tactics before using force or arrest, and we use those tactics because we don’t want to resort to deadly force,” Fitisemanu said.
For Fitisemanu and the dozens of officers standing behind him during the news conference, they fear Mendenhall’s new rules on use of deadly force are not legal and could result in officers getting hurt.
The officers took issue with one section, which says, “officers shall not contribute to a situation in a manner that could lead to use of force by taking unnecessary, overly aggressive action.”
They countered that Utah law and prior court decisions already cover those situations.
They also said Salt Lake City Police have never used deadly force on someone who wanted to hurt themselves but was not a danger to others.
“The order illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding, intentional or otherwise, of police use of force and applicable law and demonstrates that there is much work to do. An officer’s use of force is not only subject to the constitutional floor of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham vs. Connor, but is also subject to individual constitutional rights, Utah law, and department policy. While the mayor may direct changes to police policy, she may not set aside Utah law or an officer’s individual right to protect themselves or others when threatened with force,” Fitisemanu said.
Association members were also upset that they were being tagged as racists, and rejected the mayor’s argument that she was confronting systemic racism in the department and society. They also claimed their employers have “castigated” them in the press without any evidence.
“We reject the mayor’s claim of racial and social disparities across all Salt Lake City agencies and institutions. We work every day with [those] employees…and the mayor’s claim wrongfully and insultingly disparages her own employees. It is true that individual acts of racial bias exist throughout society. We know and witness this in our work every day. The officers’ abhorrent actions in Minneapolis that resulted in the death of Mr. [George] Floyd is an example that we cannot tolerate. But Salt Lake City is not Minneapolis or Detroit or Los Angeles or Chicago,” Fitisemanu said.
Even so, the association says it will give input to the mayor, city council, the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing, and the public.
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