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Millcreek Journal

‘We hear you,’ Mayor addresses Millcreek’s stance on policing

Jun 22, 2020 11:35AM ● By Kirk Bradford

Mayors Mike Peterson (Cottonwood Heights), Byron Ames (Francis), Erin Mendenhall (Salt Lake City), Celeste Johnson (Midway), Andy Beerman (Park City), Jeff Silvestrini (Millcreek), and Kelleen Potter (Heber), masked for the COVID-19 pandemic, joined protesters in Salt Lake City to express their support for policing systems that respect the safety of every resident, free of fear and violence. They posed with signs gifted to them during the protest. (Kirk Bradford/City Journals)

By Kirk Bradford | [email protected]

Last month, Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini told the public the council wanted to create some dialogue with residents regarding any suggestions for a policing system that respects the safety of every resident. 

This followed the Black Lives Matter and police brutality protests that began after a black man named George Floyd died under police custody in Minneapolis.

“This week I was flooded with Millcreek residents’ concerns and suggestions for improving policing and preventing excessive use of force, racial bias and other bias,” Silvestrini said. “As mayor and a Unified Police Department board member, I hear you loud and clear. I know something of the character of our officers and the efforts our department has already undertaken to prevent tragic results like we saw in George Floyd’s death and far too many other unacceptable instances.”

The event sparked outrage throughout the nation and protests have continued over the weeks in various parts of Utah. Millcreek Precinct officers have participated with others in Salt Lake County as protests continue to push for more police reform. Salt Lake City Council members are weighing their options.

Elected officials and staff are said to be looking at a multipronged plan that includes moving some funds from the police department to what are called nondepartmental accounts. Also putting certain funds on hold until later in the year to be used after conducting a third-party evaluation of the law enforcement budget.

Thousands of people have reportedly written to officials in Salt Lake and the most common demand from city residents was said to be a $30 million dollar cut to police operations. Salt Lake City Councilman Darin Mano estimated was receiving “one or two emails a minute” from constituents calling on his support for $30 million dollars’ worth of cuts to the city’s police department budget. At a work session Council Chairman Chris Wharton said, “That’s just not possible.”

He went on to explain why the law doesn’t allow it saying, “We must identify cuts specifically or we are delegating our responsibility to establish the budget.”

Wharton said the $30 million figure came from a proposed formula for cuts to the Minneapolis Police Department, but had been scaled for Salt Lake City. As protests continue nationwide and in Utah, the Minneapolis department is in the spotlight because it is where Floyd died.

Millcreek’s Silvestrini expressed the gratitude of the council toward the community and policing and feels there is more to be done by engaging in further community dialogue regarding appropriate police tactics, training and behavior.  

Silvestrini addressed the protests that had eventually turned into looting in downtown Salt Lake saying, “I honor peaceful protest as a necessary and fundamental right. I participated with other mayors of cities in Salt Lake, Summit and Wasatch Counties in a peaceful protest at Salt Lake City’s City and County Building. The experience was humbling and informative. I got yelled at, and I got thanked for showing up. I talked with several Millcreek residents who came to express their anger and frustration. I saw many of our UPD officers assisting SLCPD to ensure the risk of injury to people and property we witnessed does not reoccur.”

Silvestrini addressed the current strategies of policing saying, “As much as I honor the right to peacefully protest, I also recognize the professionalism and restraint our UPD officers, 40 from our own Millcreek Precinct have demonstrated over the past week. Theirs is no easy task maintaining composure with protesters confronting them and blaming them for acts they did not commit. Certainly, our officers are not perfect. But I do know that UPD expends significant resources training them.”

Silvestrini issued a statement saying Millcreek is already investing in many of the strategies protesters are suggesting we implement. Among them being UPD officers train in de-escalation tactics, continuum of force protocols, using non-lethal force and avoiding implicit bias. 

Silvestrini also stated, “UPD officers are trained to react to behavior, not personal characteristics, particularly race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. UPD officers are subject to discipline for bad behavior, required to report every use of or threat to use any force, and there is space for peers to correct and criticize improper use of force by peers. The restraint method we saw with George Floyd is against UPD policy; so is maintaining any restraint beyond handcuffs once compliance is achieved.”

The full statement from Silvestrini can be found on the Millcreek Government website and it details more about the current tactics and training. Silvestrini closed the statement saying, “I don’t report these things to foreclose better ideas and suggestions for improvement. Rather, I hope to share what we have been doing to reassure Millcreek residents and to set a baseline from which we can determine how we can do better. I intend to sponsor discussions, where hopefully we can have a constructive dialogue about how to improve our police force and move toward actual, reform. I have responded, as have our Councilmembers, to the communications we have received. We will continue to evaluate your emailed suggestions and work with our UPD officers and command staff to implement reforms to effect real and positive change. We hear you, and we want our policing in Millcreek to become the best it can be.”