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The City Journals

Encouraging Police-Community Relations

Aug 26, 2016 02:58PM ● By Jordan Greene

Salt Lake City Police cruiser parked outside the courthouse. – Jordan Greene

Amid tensions around the nation between law enforcers and their communities, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski is hoping to improve the relationships residents have with their police officers. The Mayor organized a workshop called, “Transforming Together” in late July to encourage a dialogue about these issues.

The Mayor’s office has said that the goal of the workshop is to “foster constructive dialogue and address steps being taken to strengthen relationships between police and the community.” The Mayor wants this workshop to generate feedback from residents about their current ongoing efforts to improve relations between police and civilians. These ongoing efforts include “de-escalation training, use-of-force policy, the role of the Civilian Review Board, and training and hiring of police officers.”

Joshua Ashdown, community intelligence officer for Sugar House, said he feels very positively about the Mayor’s efforts and thinks that the anxiety a lot of people feel toward police these days could be caused by a few things.

“We are flooded with news stories and articles more than ever,” he said. “A lot of things get reported without all the facts and that can add to a person’s anxiety when something bad has happened. So we can tend to think that more bad things are happening than there is. It’s every topic too, not just with police incidents. We see more shootings, or animals being killed, more than ever because of the technology and all the social media we have.”

With reports of police-community relationships breaking down in other parts of the country, Ashdown thinks that this sort of dialogue is extremely helpful.

He said, “What the Mayor is doing is a great step in the right direction and I have no doubt that it will continue on that path.”

He believes that this sort of dialogue will help communities such as Sugar House in several ways, one of which is simply “knowing that they have a mayor and a police chief committed to communication with the public we serve and no hesitation to get involved with the process with the process themselves if they see the need.”

The Mayor’s vision is that increased communication between the police and the community they serve is intended to solve any issues before they arise. Keeping close relationships and open lines of communication between the two will help prevent any tensions from rising in the first place. Ashdown said that the Mayor’s workshop and other future efforts like it will help in this effort because “some of this bridge work [between community and police] has already started and they [the Sugar House community] have a great avenue to seek information and be heard.”

Their hope is that if residents are concerned, that they feel comfortable coming forward, feel that they will be heard and that concerns will be honestly discussed and addressed.

One thing that Ashdown thinks would be helpful in keeping anxiety levels down, is to be patient for the facts. He said, “It’s hard to be patient and wait for all the details to come out, but be patient. The same way if you were accused of doing something wrong you would want the time taken to get all the facts straight first. But if you think something wrong has occurred then definitely contact the proper channels.”

He also mentioned that many people don’t realize the struggle the police themselves face when trying to build trust.

 “Police officers do not want bad cops in their ranks. Because it takes years to build the communication and trust with the community and one bad cop can set back all the effort of the entire department even if it’s not in their city.  We want to connect with the community and want them to trust us,” he said.