Bringhurst: Fund Communities Over Cops


Mark Draper

Utah Highway Patrol K-9 officer J. Banks (right) uses his phone as officers I. Lofton (far left) and B. Wood (center) look out over the crowd gathered to protest police brutality and corruption in front of the Utah State Capitol Building on June 4, 2020 (Photo by Mark Draper | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Maggie Bringhurst, Opinion Writer


Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall proposed a $21 million police budget increase, almost double 2013’s, and up 25% from last year. Mendenhall and SLCPD Chief Mike Brown justify the massive increase with their reports of an influx of calls and resignation of officers. Despite a decrease in violent crime, the 2023 budget is $40 million more than 2016’s — when violent crimes were at their highest.

Mendenhall likes to tout new policies and programs intended to reform the police department, but SLCPD’s 2021 Crime Control plan contradicts any claim of reformation. Until we can guarantee SLCPD won’t abuse the people they’re meant to protect, we shouldn’t increase their funding. And because police will always systemically be oppressors, Mendenhall should pave the way for new structures that omit police presence.

Systemic Oppression in Policing

The SLCPD shoot at racial and ethnic minorities at disproportionate rates. Within the last two years, a K9 officer ordered his police dog to attack a fully compliant Black man. Two officers shot and killed 22-year-old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, and all charges were dismissed. SLCPD also can’t handle mental health episodes either, as they shot a 13-year-old autistic boy experiencing a mental health crisis.

We should not increase funding to a department with a history of abuse. Police and law enforcement structures in America were built with racist intentions, and building onto a faulty foundation won’t eliminate police brutality. We shouldn’t settle for anything less than taking tangible steps towards demilitarizing the police and creating community-based public safety.

Minimal Reformation

One small silver lining to the budget proposal is the implementation of a civilian response team. The team will handle low-priority calls like roadside assistance or welfare checks. Best case scenario, it’s a step towards community-based police alternatives. Worst case scenario, civilians can play cop and dangerously step into an authority position. Civilians already abuse citizen’s arrest laws, like in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and unjustly killed by men purportedly suspecting him of burglary.

Power should be restored to the people, but not through existing police structures. “It’s great that they’re realizing that civilians can do a lot of these jobs,” said Eliza McKinney, member of Decarcerate Utah, an organization advocating for defunding and ultimately dismantling police. “But why not actually have civilians do it rather than continue to fund the police department and have the police department in charge of these services?”

The budget increase will also fund a youth engagement program and restructure the Victim Advocate Program. Nicole Salazar-Hall, chair of the SLCPD’s Commission on Racial Equity in Policing, supports the new programs and claims they are steps toward “long-term, systemic change in the police department.” While this may sound hopeful at first, these aren’t systemic changes. The changes only expand the current department’s authority and capability. None of these changes work towards dismantling the power structure that encourages police violence, and are a fraction of the increased budget.

Allocate Funds Elsewhere

All new civilian positions account for $1.61 million of the $21 million increase. $8.3 million of the increase go towards salary raises for officers, and the proposed budget far exceeds the needs of the SLCPD.

Services for welfare checks and roadside assistance already exist outside of police forces, but don’t receive nearly as much funding. The University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute offers a 24-hour crisis line staffed by mental health professionals, and increased funding would allow them to respond to welfare checks. And on top of that, the Department of Transportation is equipped to handle roadside assistance or traffic stops.

The money could have alleviated unsheltered individuals, but instead it will be used to harass them. It could have been used to raise the minimum wage and help citizens survive current inflation, or help ex-convicts secure stable housing. The money could have ensured that community needs were met. Unlike increasing police presence, each of these can decrease crime.

Mayor Mendenhall did the minimum to reform SLCPD. In 2020 she signed an executive order that required that police wear body cams and use de-escalation techniques before resorting to force. Though similar policies were implemented across the nation in 2020, more people were fatally shot by police in 2021 than any previous year, with Black people still being disproportionately shot at.

It’s time to stop trying to fix what is fundamentally flawed. Funding police departments prolongs the problem. We’ve spent years devising better plans than pouring money into intentionally oppressive power structures, yet continuously contribute to a broken system.

“The point is to move funding to life,” McKinney said. “It’s replacing police with services that actually keep people safe … rather than increasing punishment and violence in neighborhoods that are already underserved by the city.”

We need to rethink law enforcement on a national level, starting from the ground up. Salt Lake City has the funds to do more, and Mendenhall has the ability. But if we continue funding the SLCPD, they will continue abusing their power.


[email protected]