With local and national tensions about excessive use of police force brewing, Salt Lake government and administrative officials have teamed up with law enforcement to offer a trio of public forums examining the use of deadly force, police training, and citizens’ rights. The first such forum, titled “Fair and Equal Treatment,” occurred on Feb. 25, and featured such public figures as Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.
Ostensibly, this ‘town hall’ style event allows citizens and officials to examine current issues of process within law enforcement, and provides a setting for concerned citizens to have their voices heard by those who create policy. While this type of event sounds like PR magic and an opportunity for progress, the Feb. 25 event left much to be desired in the way of productive discourse.
After butchering the names of almost the entire panel and offering a few rather irrelevant attempts at humor, moderator and Professor of Criminal Justice at Weber State University Robert C. Wadman handed the mic over to District Attorney Gill, who also seemed almost completely devoid of meaningful information. Gill prattled on in the prepared, formulaic manner typical of politicians about his contributions to curbing police violence, and the incredibly vague ways in which he hopes to minimize it in the future.
After Gill, it was the turn of Police Chief Burbank, who was largely more understandable and relatable to the audience. He explained that law enforcement officers have the incredibly difficult job of making split-second force-related decisions when their lives are in danger, and occasionally these decisions result in unwarranted deaths. He offered that it was his organization’s responsibility to minimize or eliminate officer overreaction through revised training. The rest of the forum was opened up to public comment, which largely consisted of angry, nonsensical rants about police incidents that none of the panelists had anything to do with.
If the goal of these community forums is to find common ground, perhaps tomorrow's gathering will hit closer to the mark. Chief Burbank, Mayor Becker, and District Attorney Gill will be speaking about the police training curriculum tomorrow night from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Sweet Library (455 N. F Street, Salt Lake City).