SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake Police Association issued a rebuke of Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s police policy reforms on Monday, calling the changes “superfluous” and accusing the mayor of disparaging city employees.
The policies in question were issued by Mendenhall through executive order on Aug. 5. Aimed at changing the department’s use of force protocol, how police conduct search and seizures, and how the department will discipline officers who either fail to activate or intentionally deactivate their body cameras, the mayor said the policies would make Salt Lake police “the most well trained and progressive police department in the country.”
The order underscored deescalation tactics, which Mendenhall said will be “no longer suggested or preferred.” Per the policy change, officers will be required to deescalate a situation “prior to using force to effect an arrest, unless it would be unreasonable to do so.”
The update also requires officers to use deescalation tactics amongst themselves.
On Monday, the Salt Lake Police Association, a police union, took aim at the use of force changes, slated to take effect Sept. 5. However, instead of faulting the mayor for going too far, the association’s primary critique was that several of these new policies are not, in fact, new.
“The order’s directed changes either already exist in department policy, Utah or federal law, or don’t materially change the policies,” said officer Jon Fitisemanu, pointing out that police are “already required to intercede if they observe a fellow officer using inappropriate force.”
With the backdrop of over 100 officers and their family members standing shoulder to shoulder outside the Salt Lake City Public Safety building, Fitisemanu described a tumultuous and at times violent few months for his department, worsened, he said, by scrutiny from local officials and the public.
“We reject the mayor’s claim of racial and social disparities across all Salt Lake City agencies and institutions,” he said, referring to the mayor’s Aug. 5 statement. “We work every day with employees in these agencies and institutions, and the mayor’s claim wrongfully and insultingly disparages her own employees.”
Two other subsections — one preventing officers from contributing “to a situation in a manner that could lead to use of force by taking unnecessary, overly aggressive action,” and another restricting police from using deadly force to stop someone from harming themselves — were labeled as “superfluous” Monday afternoon.
“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,” Fitisemanu said.
However, when Mendenhall unveiled the new orders, standing alongside a supportive Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown, she told reporters the city’s department was “intrinsically involved” in the process.
“We’ve been working together in lockstep from the beginning, and it doesn’t do any good for a mayor to come out and issue orders of police and policy change without working with the police department,” Mendenhall said, a sentiment she reiterated Monday in a statement issued to the Deseret News.
“Being the best police department doesn’t just happen, it takes continual work and a commitment to improve as best practices evolve,” she said. “It’s in the spirit of constant improvement that my administration collaborated with Chief Brown and his team on reforms announced last week.”
In his closing statements Monday, Fitisemanu extended an olive branch to the mayor’s office and other city officials.
“We welcome the opportunity to provide input and education to the mayor, City Council, the city’s newly formed Commission on Racial Equity in Policing, and the community we serve,” he said.
In a response, Mendenhall expressed willingness to do just that.
“We hope that as their remarks today indicated, SLPA plans to provide their input on the policy changes that will be implemented on Sept. 5 and we look forward to their collaboration and feedback as the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing makes additional recommendations,” Mendenhall said. “It takes all of us to do the work of making a more equitable Salt Lake City.”