U Police Change Language Used With Victims, Others Reporting an Incident


Jake Stranzl

Police officers assemble outside of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct. 7, 2020. (Photo by Jake Stranzl | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Stevie Shaughnessey, News Writer


Jason Hinojosa, interim chief of police at the University of Utah, recently announced that the U Police are working to better serve the community by changing the language used when they interact with victims and people who report incidents. He said this is one of the first steps to changing the culture within the department. 

This language change, said Hinojosa, came after a review of body camera footage of U officers, where he noticed that some of the questions asked by the officers made victims more nervous than they already were.

“We do have some instances where, sometimes, these questions that are asked may have some negative connotations for the person being asked or the person making the report,” Hinojosa said.

These are the three things that are no longer being said by U police officers.

‘What do you want me to do?’

According to Hinojosa, while officers ask this question to be supportive, it puts pressure on the victim who often doesn’t know what to do. Hinojosa himself used it for years before realizing how it affected people reporting crimes.

“[Officers] already know what the options are, so let’s work with our recorder or a complainant or a victim and say look, here are the options and I’ll discuss the [various] options we have, and then you can discuss with me and we’ll figure out what’s best for you,” Hinojosa said.

The goal of the U Police is to support the people who look to them for help, Hinojosa said, and they should be comfortable when making a report.

“Let’s help the community through these issues,” Hinojosa said. “Let’s not make it feel like an inquisition as to why they reported or what they want done.”

‘Why did you wait so long to report?’

When asked this question, people often don’t have an answer because they are unsure of what to do when something happens, Hinojosa said.

“They’re making a report, so we’ll take the report, and we’ll do what we can do,” Hinojosa said. “Let’s not make somebody who’s already feeling uncertain or unsure or nervous or scared about filing a report, [more uncomfortable].”

Hinojosa said some people who are filing a report might fear retaliation from the person they are filing it against, and this question could reinforce their previous fears of waiting to make a report.

“There is a legitimate concern for some sort of retribution or retaliation for filing the report, especially on interpersonal violence cases or domestic violence cases,” Hinojosa said. “Let’s not make anybody feel worse.”

‘There’s nothing we can do.’

This would often come up during reports when no crime had been committed yet, said Hinojosa, in which case campus police have very little they can do. 

“If somebody doesn’t want to follow through with an investigation or prosecution, as far as we’re concerned, that stops with us as far as the police side,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa added that even though the U police may not have very many options, they can still connect these students to the many resources on campus that could help them further, and the department is working to become educated on all of the resources available.

“There [are] too many resources available to students, faculty and staff on this campus that we should have awareness of as a police department,” Hinojosa said.

Change Happens Slowly

While Hinojosa hopes to find more ways to better serve the community in the future, these are the first steps in helping people feel more comfortable with contacting the U Police.

“Our goal is to make sure that the campus is as safe as it can be, and that the people who do choose to call us feel like they made the right decision and they feel confident in the response,” Hinojosa said.

Kimberly Barnett, filling the newly created position of deputy chief safety officer, hopes to use her past experiences as a social worker with victims of domestic violence to build this new position and connect with the student community.

“I’m going to bring perhaps a different perspective to the Department of Public Safety that this department welcomes, which is not the perspective of a law enforcement officer,” Barnett said.

One of Barnett’s goals is to take charge of addressing potential problems on campus, and she wants to create more informative discussions about campus safety.

“We want to focus proactively now on reaching out to our community and being leaders in facilitating discussions on campus safety,” Barnett said. “What does that mean to you? What are the upcoming trends that are coming down that we need to prepare for in public safety?”

The U police are also working to be more representative of the community, said Hinojosa, and the department has made the commitment to the 30-by-30 initiative, which promotes hiring more women in law enforcement.

“The community is slightly more female than male,” Hinojosa said. “We should have some more representative staffing here with the police department.”

On top of the appearance and language changes, the U is adding a new public safety building opening on Nov. 9 at 1 p.m. This new building will include victim advocates on site, increased dispatch, and many more components to help increase campus safety.

The changes that the campus police are making are more than just surface level, Hinojosa said, and this transformation is all about connecting with students on campus and “humanizing the badge”.

“I think the changes that we’re looking for are deeper than things right,” Hinojosa “They’re deeper than the building. They’re deeper than the rebranding of our patches and our badge.”


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