The fact Utahns trust their local police did not shock anyone — not from law enforcement leaders who say the 82% support seen in polling affirms strong confidence residents have in their communities’ policing, nor to police reform advocates, who say the poll does not capture hard-to-reach populations that tend to be more distrustful of officers.

Both sides of the aisle also agree that even with the show of support, more can and needs to be done on building a better relationship between police and the people they serve.

According to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, 82% of Utahns trust their local police department either “mostly” or “completely.” On the other hand, only 16% said they “mostly” or “completely” distrust their local police.

To Ian Adams, executive director of Utah’s Fraternal Order of Police, the poll’s results demonstrate “we have to be careful in our reactions to national stories and not let it color our perception of what’s going on here locally.”

“Utah is not New York. It’s not Atlanta. Not Minneapolis. It’s Utah, and Utah has something special going on,” Adams said. “Our policing here in the state has been very reform-minded for several decades, and it’s known as a center for professional policing in the U.S.”

To Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, who has helped champion police reform legislation and continued conversations for improved community relationships with law enforcement, the poll results also made sense, while acknowledging people of color make up a minority of Utah’s population.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Romero said, “because when you look at conflict with law enforcement, that’s usually with (minority) communities, so there’s a lot of work to do when it comes to law enforcement working with marginalized communities.”

Of the 82% of Utahns who trust their local police department, 34% said they trust their police “completely” and 48% said they “mostly” trust them. Of the 16% who said they don’t trust their local police, 10% said they “mostly” distrust them, while 6% said they distrust them “completely.” Only 3% don’t know.

However, while there is a slight difference in responses among poll respondents regarding race, the poll didn’t show a major difference in answers from respondents who were white and those of “other” ethnicities (the poll didn’t specify or break down races in the other category).

According to the poll, 34% of white respondents said they “completely” trust their local police, while 28% of people an other ethnicity answered the same. About 48% of white Utahns said they mostly trust their police, while 46% of people who were not white answered the same. About 9% of white respondents said they “mostly” distrusted their local police, while 13% of nonwhites answered the same. About 5% of white respondents said they “completely” distrust their police, compared to 9% of people who were not white.

For the poll, independent pollster Scott Rasmussen surveyed 1,000 registered voters in Utah from April 30 to May 6. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Certain quotas were applied to the overall sample and lightly weighted by geography, gender, age, race, education, religion and political party to reasonably reflect the state’s population, according to the pollster. Other variables were reviewed to ensure that the final sample was representative of that population.

Seeing larger problems lurking

David Cacanindin, an organizer with Utah Against Police Brutality, said the poll results demonstrate a larger problem — one that goes beyond race. He said it’s likely that the poll of registered Utah voters did not capture segments of the state’s population that don’t fit into societal “norms,” such as the poor, the unsheltered or people with mental illness who experience issues with police more often.

“We have a culture where police have a warrior culture instead of a ‘How can I help you?’ culture,” Cacanindin said. “I work with the unsheltered all the time, and it’s never, ‘How can I help you?’ It’s always hostile, every single time. ... Trust has been long gone, and it’s going to take a lot to rebuild it.”

To Cacanindin, the poll shows more Utahns need to be educated about problems with police and develop more empathy for those who experience abuse.

“I really do feel like the heart of it is just a poor sense of empathy and understanding for other ways that people have lived,” he said, adding it’s not right for an unarmed person to be shot and killed by a police officer before they’re given a chance to prove their innocence in the court of law.

“I wish people understood that no one is a criminal unless they’re convicted,” he said.

Moving to address demands for police reforms

Cacanindin said more “systems of accountability” would help both shed more light for the general public on police malpractice and help increase trust among those populations. What’s been lacking for too long, he said, is quality data about all police use-of-force incidents across the state.

The Utah Legislature this year passed a slew of police reform laws, including HB84, that requires local police agencies to collect and submit data on use-of-force-incidents to the Bureau of Criminal Identification. Another, HB264, requires law enforcement officers to file a report every time they point a firearm or a Taser at a person.

However, the Legislature did not approve other bills supported by groups like Black Lives Matter Utah, including one that would have allowed cities to create their own elected, independent civilian oversight boards, and one that would have required release of police body camera video within 10 days of incidents that result in death or bodily injury or whenever an officer fires a gun.

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Cache County Sheriff Chad Jensen, president of the Utah Sheriffs’ Association, said the poll reflects most Utahns “like what we do and they support the work that we do.” But that doesn’t mean, he noted, there isn’t still room for improvement.

“I would hope everybody in my community has some level of trust with their law enforcement agencies,” Jensen said. “Now, can we reach and touch every person in the state and change their minds? I don’t know if that’s possible. But I think as law enforcement agencies and leaders of law enforcement, we owe that to the public — we should do everything we can to gain everybody’s trust and have them feeling comfortable. ... We may never get to the point where that’s 100%, but that should be the goal. It is the goal.”

Jensen said in his 30 years in the profession, “law enforcement has always had reform. We always want to do what’s right. We want better tools, training. We want better everything.”

Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch, said the poll shows law enforcement officials in Utah have been doing a good job “working to improve relationships between their communities and law enforcement.” To her, the poll’s results again weren’t surprising, especially because of the demographic nature of Utah.

Generally, people of color are more “afraid” of police, Williams said, because of what they’ve seen happen to others, whether that’s in or outside of Utah.

“It’s because they’re afraid and don’t want to die,” she said.

Public’s faith in police training on use of force

Williams credited Utah leaders, however, with working to address police reform, lauding the Legislature for swiftly passing a ban on chokeholds in wake of George Floyd’s killing.

The poll also showed Utahns somewhat tempered their view of police when asked to look outside of their own state.

Asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “police in the United States are adequately trained to avoid excessive use of force,” about 54% agreed (17% who strongly agreed and 37% who somewhat agreed) while 42% disagreed (21% who somewhat disagreed and 21% who strongly disagreed).

When asked the same question of police officers in Utah, residents responded with stronger approval. About 63% said they agreed (with 23% who strongly agreed and 40% who somewhat disagreed). About 31% disagreed (with 19% who somewhat disagreed and 12% who strongly disagreed). About 6% weren’t sure.

That didn’t come as any surprise to Jensen, either, because he said only the “horrible” things that happen get reported in national media. It makes sense that more Utahns, who have more established trust with their local police departments because of daily interaction, would agree that police are adequately trained to avoid excessive use of force.

However, Romero had words of caution to her fellow policymakers who might look at the poll and think police reform isn’t an issue in Utah. Romero successfully sponsored several reform bills this year, including requiring data collection on use of force incidents and added training on de-escalation tactics and working with individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

“Just because a majority of people don’t feel like it’s an issue doesn’t mean it’s not an issue,” she said. “For communities of color and as we share space, we need to recognize the challenges and experiences of others. There is a history with communities of color and law enforcement. And as an elected official, I’m trying to address some of those issues with policy.”