MILLCREEK, Utah (ABC4) – Compared to other states, Utah doesn’t have a large African American population, and the same is true for police officers throughout our state. But one officer is trying to change that. ABC4 explains what he’s for doing for police racial diversity, in this edition of Behind the Badge.
Utah has a lot of talented police officers, but what the state doesn’t have is a lot of Black police officers. That lack of diversity is one area, one officer recognized where he can personally make a big difference.
There’s a reason Sgt. Nick Renfro with Unified Police stands out from the vast majority of all police officers in Utah. He’s one of only 25 Black police officers reportedly working in the entire state.
“I think it’s very important for me to be a representative of my community and of my culture,” said Sgt. Nick Renfro, Unified Police Dept.
Sgt. Renfro’s culture has some pretty prominent heritage. His ancestor inspired the movie “Green Flake” about a Black slave pioneer who helped settle the Salt Lake Valley, and the new Millcreek City Hall is going up on Chambers Avenue, named after another one of his ancestors, among the first to live in Millcreek.
It’s the same area Sgt. Renfro now patrols.
He tells ABC4 News he loves his job but wishes there were more officers like him.
Following the 2020 riots in downtown Salt Lake, a report entitled “Police Reform: A Report to the Governor,” highlighted just how rare really Renfro is. In the 2020 report, of the 5,004 law enforcement officers in Utah, removing those whose race is unknown, White officers make up 91.4%, only 5% are Hispanic, just over 2% are Asian/Pacific Islanders, .7% are Black, and .4% American Indian or Alaskan Native.
“If we have a profession that’s predominately one gender, one sexual orientation, one ethnicity I think we’re limiting ourselves in perspective of the communities that we serve,” said Renfro.
It’s part of the reason, Sgt. Renfro decided to become a police officer. Growing up in West Valley City, he initially was leery of police.
“I remember stories as I was coming up learning to drive to if ever contacted by police, keep your hands on the steering wheel, keep your eyes forward, ‘yes sir, no sir,'” he said.
But after graduating from Utah State University with a degree in psychology, he became a code enforcer for West Jordan, working closely with police, and his opinion on officers began to change.
“I started to formulate relationships and see a different side of law enforcement than I first perceived and felt like a lack of representation of African Americans was very present and very needed,” said Renfro.
Part of his work now is teaching other officers about police bias, helping to bridge Utah’s racial gap.
“It’s very eye-opening for a lot of our officers, it’s eye-opening for myself,” Renfro said.
His steady work also is changing the attitude of Renfro’s own father, who grew up leery of police too. Now, his dad feels differently.
“He’s quick to talk to other officers and tell them his son is a Sgt. with Unified Police Department. So, I see the pride, which makes me feel very special to know you know that even within my family that I’ve had an impact and a change,” he said.
Renfro feels being a racial officer ambassador can go a long way to improve the perception of police or Black culture, and hopefully inspire more young Black Utahns to follow Renfro’s path to wear the badge.
Sgt. Renfro said growing up, his friends would all talk about their negative experiences with police, and he didn’t want to be someone keeping those stories going. He realized the best way he could make a difference and change stories for future kids was by doing it from inside the police force.