Your Community Is Safe

By Jason Nowa

Being there for each other in a community can be burdensome for families trying to live in a safe environment. With Utah’s ever growing population there is more criminal activity throughout the years, and families tend to lean upon the local police for safety. This can be a constant concern for worried citizens. Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank (Voices of Utah) says “We are here for you. There’s no reason to be afraid.”

Burbank spoke recently to students at the University of Utah about the Salt Lake Police Department and the efforts his officers put forth to keep the state’s largest city safe.

Burbank, 46, has been on the force nearly half of his life, or 21 years on the job.

Burbank emphasized the need for the eyes and ears of all Salt Lake City residents in fighting crime. Last year alone there were 12,000 burglaries, he said. There are only so many police officers to go around, but, he said, many more citizens are able to see and report criminal activity. Everyone in a community can be a watchdog.

“Our role is to prevent crime,” Burbank said. “ We can only truly prevent crime when the community helps us and gives us a call.”

Communication skills can help descalate a tense situation very quickly if an officer can get into the mind of an individual. In spite of stereotypes from TV cop shows, most real police officers will never fire a service revolver in the line of duty, Burbank said.  The chief’s philosophy is to calm a difficult disturbance in various ways before ever thinking of drawing a weapon. In an unruly crowd, for instance, popular wisdom might demand police put on riot gear and use mace at any sign of danger. Burbank said the use of these measures at first puts on a defensive tactic and might quickly enrage an already excited crowd.

“Pepper spray is a use of force. There are other ways to calm a conflict,” he said.

He wants to remember to observe every person’s constitutional rights and the ability to voice opinions. Burbank’s approach would be to first have a conversation with people to help them, followed by telling them their options and then to put into action the safest decision possible.

Burbank said there is gang violence (Voices of Utah) in the Salt Lake area, mostly in Glendale and West Valley City. There are about 5 officer shootings a year. The law defines a gang as two or more people gathered and involved in criminal activity. Burbank said the majority of officers involved with shooting someone usually don’t last beyond five years on the job after an incident.

The gang violence in Salt Lake has become more silent in recent years with gangs staying off the police radar and drug dealing mostly. During his tenor he said the biggest gang he had to deal with was a Tongan Crip gang in Glendale but they are mostly nonexistent nowadays. Anybody that is involved in any way with gang activity whether they commit an actual crime or not are considered suspects and will be jailed for whatever involvement they have. Burbank emphasized this would help crack down on the friends who are just along for the joy ride.

Ethical dilemmas occur daily as Burbank emphasized, “We are part of the community, and we work for the public. And my responsibility is to not allow racial stereotyping. I will not allow my officers to act as such.”

Salt Lake Police officer in charge of Public Relations, Cary Wichmann, mentioned that police officers jobs are very serious in nature and that any help the community can ever provide is helpful information.

The Metro Gang Unit (Voices of Utah) was created to establish identity, control, and prevent criminal gang activity. This force provides data and assistance to all law enforcement agencies. This unit also provides helpful information for youth on alternatives to being involved in a gang, and provides education for the public about the destructiveness of the gang lifestyle.

The Metro Gang Unit works in part with the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake.

The UPD is a helpful specialized force that serves various communities within suburban Salt Lake. These participating cities share the costs with neighboring communities which save local governments and reduce the tax burdens of citizens. The pool of services that the UPD provides is SWAT, forensics, records, dispatches, K-9, and media services.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder is the CEO of the UPD. Winder oversees local precincts but that each precinct has their own commander which was chosen by the given city. Commanders are those who run the precincts and have authority over traffic, patrol, and crossing guards. Winder explained the organization of the UPD. Eight elected officials from participating communities serve as the Board of Directors over the UPD. They oversee global and local policies along with operational, budgetary, and human resource issues.

The Executive Management has Winder as the county sheriff serving as CEO. There are also financial and human resource management advisers. The various communities have joined together to have the UPD serve their cities. Operational and cost efficiencies are achieved by the sharing of resources that ordinarily wouldn’t be fully utilized by a single community.