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Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland Proposes Funding Statewide De-escalation Training For Law Enforcement

A photo of line of police officers in front of a building.
Kelsie Moore
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, is proposing a bill for the 2022 General Session to fund and mandate police de-escalation training statewide.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, said the way police interact with the public is often on her mind.

Birkeland’s family adopted their son through foster care. She said he’s half Black and has mental health issues.

“It's my biggest fear in life that he will wind up in a situation where he's confronted by law enforcement,” she said. “Right after we adopted him, we went to see a doctor and he was like, ‘It's not a matter of if your son goes to jail. It's when will your son go to jail.’ And I still think about that often, like, how do I help him?”

Birkeland recently joined members of Utah law enforcement agencies for a de-escalation training that focuses on building relationships with communities.

Now, she’s proposing a bill for the 2022 General Session to fund and mandate that training statewide.

She said it will save money in the long run.

“The settlements alone that we as a state spend on excessive use of force is far more money than what this legislation would cost,” Birkeland said.

She views it as a follow up to a new state law that requires 16 out of 40 hours of annual police training to be dedicated to de-escalation and crisis response.

During the 2021 Legislative session, Birkeland tried to pass a bill to increase the threshold for use of force.

She said this training is more important.

“There is no piece of legislation that we can write when it comes to use of force or de-escalation that is going to matter as much as this training,” she said. “We have to fundamentally change how the officers work and how they view their job.”

Ian Adams, executive director of the Utah Fraternal Order of Police, said it’s good to have multiple options for training — but there needs to be financial support.

“The municipalities are extraordinarily cash-strapped right now,” Adams said. “Training budgets, especially training time, are very cramped. So the state could move this conversation forward in a really positive way by providing some funding around these demands for de-escalation training.”

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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