Tackling police reform: Activist groups protest after SLCPD ends staffing for CAG meetings

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Cries and chants from members of Black Lives Matter Utah and Utah Against Police Brutality could be heard from Washington Square Thursday afternoon, demanding immediate action for police reform.

“We need police to be accountable for their actions. We need a civilian review board that will review cases and investigate our police, so the police aren’t investigating themselves. That’s not how you get justice,” said Rae Duckworth, operating chairperson of Black Lives Matter Utah.

“We’ve seen Mayor [Erin] Mendenhall march in the protest last year. But we haven’t seen her at the table with community organizers and activists who are making these demands,” said Jade Arter, organizer with Utah Against Police Brutality.

She went on to say, “Any progress we’ve made has been a huge push by the community, by people coming out. The city returns with breadcrumbs because of the people’s demands.”

In a press conference Wednesday about Salt Lake City’s new crime plan, Mayor Mendenhall addressed these concerns and said the city has implemented several plans to work towards police reform, such as considering budgetary recommendations from the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing (CREP) for more social workers, as well as diversity and equity training for officers.

CREP was formed back in August 2020 to make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council on Salt Lake City’s policy, budget, and culture of policing. Members include Rev. France Davis from Calvary Baptist Church, Aden Batar with Catholic Community Services, Verona Sagato-Mauga with Renew Wellness & Recovery, and SLC Human Rights Commissioner Nicole Salazar-Hall.

It was also around this time that Mayor Mendenhall issued an executive order to implement seven reforms involving use of force, body cameras, and search and seizure.

“Well, it’s completely untrue that we’re disengaging from reform because we’ve done what no other city in the state has done by permanently establishing reform mechanism,” said Mayor Mendenhall. “We are actually to the contrary, doing the work of police reform and internal reflection through the community, with the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing in perpetual form here.” 

Email from Chief Mike Brown to CAG members (October 19, 2021)

But activists said it’s not enough and they believe progress needs to happen quicker. They say they’re upset after SLCPD Chief Mike Brown sent an email to the members of the Community Activists Group (CAG) back on October 19th, informing them that the police department would no longer staff their meetings. 

CAG was initially created back in 2016, shortly after the shooting of 17-year-old Abdullahi “Abdi” Mohamed by Salt Lake City Police. Since then, the police department as well as the Chief have met with members of the community on a bi-monthly basis to discuss the public’s needs and feedback for improving civilian relations with law enforcement.

“These are family members and victims of police violence and brutality. They are a big part of that conversation and they are who we need to hear from. She’s [Mayor Mendenhall] choosing to disregard that,” said Duckworth. “The members of CAG are the ones that elected her into office and she can’t even handle a conversation with them.”

After informing members of CAG of the change, the Chief then invited them in the email to join in on meetings with CREP.

“At this point, the City feels it’s time for city staff to focus resources on this continuing work through the CREP, and as such, we will no longer consistently staff CAG. Of course, CAG is always welcome to use any community rooms open to the public.  We encourage CAG membership, as we have for the last year, to engage with the CREP, apply for positions, attend the public, transparent, and publicly noticed meetings. We need your voices in this work, and we want you to be a part of this process.  CREP is where policy work is happening, being tracked, and where people are being held accountable, and we need to focus our resources there.”

SLCPD Chief Mike Brown wrote in the letter to CAG members

However, Duckworth said by doing so would shift the power dynamic and control of discussions to the Commission. She explained CAG meetings allowed community members to host, facilitate, guide, and take charge of the conversation.

Protestors at Thursday’s demonstration said they will continue to fight for:

  • Qualified immunity reform
  • An independent civilian review board with the power to subpoena, investigate, fire, and bring charges against police
  • Officers to get fired if they turn off their body cameras before or during excessive use incidents
  • All funding for militarized police gear re-allocated to social programs
  • Laws to prevent police officers from being re-hired after being fired from another police agency

The SLC Mayor’s office issued the following statement to ABC4:

“With the formation and work of the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing over the course of the last year, a great deal of tangible progress has been made on police reform and policy. We plan to continue that work with the Commission in perpetuity.

Salt Lake City has valued its connection with Community Activists Group, but with the Commission charged to continue its important and transformational work, our hope is that any person in the community looking to get involved in this work will do so through the Commission.

We are hopeful that members of CAG will start to engage and work with the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing in the near future.”

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