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With Increased Funding To SLCPD, Some Community Members Feel Calls To Defund Police Have Been Ignored

Police vehicle with emergency lights flashing at night.
Brian Albers / KUER
The Salt Lake City Council approved a 5% increase to the police department’s budget this year, and they plan to raise salaries for officers. The funding bumps came after some community members called to defund the police.

During last year’s protests against police brutality, the Salt Lake City Council voted to cut the police budget by more than $5 million.

But Council Chair Amy Fowler said she and her colleagues never supported defunding the police.

Under the city’s recently approved budget, the council upped the police department’s funding by 5%. On Tuesday evening, they’re expected to finalize $8.5 million in raises for officers as a way to attract and keep employees. The department is experiencing a shortage of officers and an increase in response times.

Fowler said they wanted to look at “serious reform and serious changes.”

She said that includes creating alternative options so law enforcement isn’t the go-to response for every call for service. The council set aside $2 million to explore ways to do that.

“In some ways that is addressing the calls for action that people are asking us to do,” Fowler said. “It's not that we don't need police officers. We need good police officers that are doing their job the right way. And we need a reason to not call them because there’s somebody else I can call.”

The council also funded a dozen new social workers to respond to mental health calls, though they’re housed within the police department.

Brinley Froelich is with the police and prison abolition group Decarcerate Utah. Over the past year, they led call-in campaigns asking the council to cut the police budget.

She said she feels like they have been ignored.

“I think that they're unwilling to consider the idea that by funding preventative programs that'll actually reduce the harm in our city,” Froelich said. “Instead, they're just willing to keep reaffirming the power of the police.”

She said they’ll continue their mission by educating the public about how they can keep their own communities safe — without the police’s help.

“Success would look like a reduction in violence overall from the police department,” she said. “It would look like community empowerment and autonomy. It'll look like people looking out for each other.”

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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