SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) – Salt Lake City Police met with members of the Community Action Group Wednesday evening to explain their de-escalation training.
“We talk about verbal judo which is a term back in the 80s and 90s. De-escalation is something that we’ve always participated in in terms of training,” said Det. Greg Wilking with the Salt Lake City Police Department. “What we found is doing scenario-based training teaches officers how to talk to people and see good results, positive results using their words first before anything else happens.”
Gina Thayne’s nephew, Dillon Taylor was killed in an officer-involved shooting in August 2014. Although the district attorney ruled the shooting justified, Thayne believes otherwise.
“The officer made a command to Dillon to show him his hands. As soon as Dillon showed his hands, Dillion lost his life,” said Thayne.
Since then, Thayne joined the Community Action Group (CAG) and partnered with groups like Black Lives Matter Utah (BLMU) and Utah Against Police Brutality (UAPB) in an effort, she said, to prevent another family from hurting the way hers is.
“I still stand firm that a police agency shouldn’t conduct an investigation on another agency. I truly believe we need independent boards for that,” said Thayne.
Thayne said groups like CAG, BLMU, and UAPB have pushed for de-escalation training at every police department in Utah for years.
“Most of the time, police officers are going to run into really good people on a bad day,” said Thayne. “Sometimes things get escalated only because there’s a communication problem or the person’s not understanding. Those few seconds can be the difference between life and death.”
However, Det. Wilking explained de-escalation tactics doesn’t work in all scenarios.
“Understand that you can use all the de-escalating training you want. But there are times when the individuals that we’re dealing with don’t allow us to de-escalate the situation,” said Det. Wilking.
He said SLCPD’s officers never want to resort to deadly force. But when they do, it’s a rare and difficult decision.
“There are thousands and thousands of encounters on a daily basis throughout the country where the encounter with the police officer doesn’t end with deadly force ,” said Det. Wilking. “It’s such a small fraction of what happens. Unfortunately, it’s what gets magnified the greatest because it is a tragedy when it does take place.”
Thayne said although SLCPD’s meeting about de-escalation training with CAG is one step forward, she still has a lot of questions.
“There’s a lot of ifs, ands, or buts about it. What is that going to consist of? Who are they going to target?” said Thayne. “Are they going to train them that everyone’s a suspect? Are they going to train them that everyone’s carrying a weapon? Are they going to train them to recognize someone with a mental illness?”
Thayne said de-escalation training is just one part of a much bigger problem that needs to be addressed.
“It’s not just on one department. It’s not just the police department that has to make change. The community needs to make change too,” said Thayne. “They need to let it be known what it is they expect out of our law enforcement. Police officers need to be screened better. We need to be able to pay them more, make it worth it.”
Det. Wilking said he encourages any member of the public who question law enforcement to join CAG, where conversations and dialogue can be facilitated between police and the community.
“I think it’s important that people understand the job. It’s really easy to stand on the sidelines and in critical of what happens when a situation unfolds and perhaps forces use,” said Det. Wilking. “We want to have good interaction with the people that were policing. We like to resolve every issue on the lowest level possible and that’s through dialogue.”
Thayne said the lawsuit her family filed against SLCPD is still pending. But she emphasized the lawsuit is not about the money, but about prompting policy change with law enforcement.