Salt Lake City

Council District 2

The Westside – Fairpark, Glendale, Poplar Grove

Meeting Thoughts – June 11, 2020

Yes, we met again this afternoon and evening on the annual budget. By city code, we must pass a balanced, annual budget each year by the end of June. And us finalizing our part earlier allows leeway for last-minute problems to be handled. So, we are trying to complete all the budget for finalization next week.

Police Department Budget

The mayor proposed a flat budget this year with a six-month hiring freeze that would be revisited (with all other department hiring freezes once we see a real revenue number from tax returns) in December-ish.

We are endorsing that budget with a few conditions such as adding some money through non-departmental funds for body cameras and expanded trainings this year. By doing it this outside of the police department we can track the use of those funds more closely.

We also are funding an audit/review of the Police Department budget to be done ASAP to inform us, and the public, regarding the entire budget. This will also assist in forming the proposed Commission on Equity in Policing that I anticipate will look at the entire system of policing in Salt Lake and reimagine a system that ensures equity and safety for all citizens while moving behavioral health and homelessness out of policing (in my view).

This might sound naïve and I understand that, but I think systematic change is not the same as reform. Make no mistake, the department has changed written policies this week, we are pressing for specific oversite and use of force changes and more evaluation will occur.

I also believe that changes can be made to the Police Civilian Review Board to make it more effective. But we will still need law enforcement in the future, and I believe that means a holistic view of what we expect from community policing and how we oversee this authority.

As I’ve heard numerous stories over the last weeks, many deeply angry and frustrated over the system, I’ve been thinking through all the systems that are involved. It’s clearly more than a localized police force because similar issues and conflicts are happening all over the county with remarkably similar stories being told. And a new system would have to include more than police as so much is based on economic inequality along with racism.

Locally, school districts are state-funded through school boards that are completely independent of city government. Counties get federal and state funding to provide mental health and substance use treatment services, and counties assist the state in funding homeless services. Cities are required to provide police services, but Unified PD is an example of multiple cities in this valley joining for a “unified” service. But several cities have recently withdrawn from that believing they don’t get the service levels they expect, weakening that joint organization. Some cities across the country that have eliminated their police departments have gone to this county-level system.

I’m not convinced that this solution would be better, but everything should be on the table. Much of the recreation across the county is county-operated, including the Sorenson Centers in SLC (city-owned but county operated). Our county has a health department but does not provide direct medical care for residents- that is left to Intermountain Healthcare and others (some county-Medicaid funded programs like at the U and Jordan Valley-West hospitals). Salt Lake City is one of the only cities in the state who pays to subsidize city-specific transit routes and fares. And housing is a whole other system.

Salt Lake City has increased its subsidies for affordable housing since I’ve been on the council to the point that we fund twice as much as the State of Utah does each year. That bears repeating- the city provides twice as much annually as the entire rest of the state government for affordable housing.

All these separate systems have bearing on how we should reorganize policing and will need to be part of the solutions.

And all the state funding for social services in on the chopping block for up to 10% cuts at next week’s special legislative session. As a social worker, it gets me angry that we have a tax system that doesn’t provide enough funding for any level of government to provide enough basic services for all citizens. And the frustrations can go on and on. This is not to infer we cannot make the system fair and healthy for everyone. In 20+ years in social work I still have a belief that ultimately, we can and will succeed. But in order to make this idea real, we must see the structural complexity in the current system and deal with what is to create what should be.

Learn more about the proposed City budget here.

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