OGDEN — Since last summer, and before even, top reps from the Ogden Police Department and advocates from the city’s minority communities have been engaged in on-and-off talks.
Call it fallout, at least in part, from the May 25 death last year of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota, which sparked protesting here and across the nation and calls for police reform.
The Ogden Police Department is now headed by a new leader, Chief Eric Young, who formally took over on Jan. 12 from the retiring Randy Watt. But Young, a participant in those earlier talks, says dialogue will continue and that grassroots outreach will, perhaps, get even more attention.
“I hope to visit neighborhood celebrations, churches, community events and any other events we can identify to reach out to members of the public who may have questions or concerns about policing and may not feel comfortable coming to the police department to meet,” Young said.
He’s planning a new initiative to that end, working with Diana Lopez, the department’s community outreach coordinator.
“I have solid relationships with those who often speak on behalf of the underrepresented communities in Ogden and my plan is to grow those relationships to build trust and understanding to encourage more authentic communication with OPD from those diverse communities,” Young said in an email to the Standard-Examiner.
Some have called for change in department operations, reform. Betty Sawyer, president of the Ogden branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, points to myriad areas she thinks need focus: increasing the diversity of the police force, officer training on de-escalating tense situations and more. But having been involved in the talks with police that came in the wake of Floyd’s killing, she holds out hope for forward movement under Young.
“The process has been slow, but we’re hopeful it will move more swiftly now,” she said.
Similarly, Adrienne Andrews, who’s helped organize several community town hall meetings and other discussions involving Watt and other police officials, expressed optimism about prospects for continued dialogue under Young. She’s assistant vice president of diversity and chief diversity officer at Weber State University and a member of the Ogden Diversity Commission.
“He’s very easily engaged. He’s willing to partner in conversation,” said Andrews. Young, she added, is “accessible, agreeable and willing.”
Malik Dayo, who helped organize several demonstrations in Ogden in the wake of Floyd’s death focused on calls for police reform, also expressed optimism. At the same time, he, like others, still thinks there’s room for change in how Ogden police officers operate, suggesting continued points of contention. Dayo touts the 8 Can’t Wait initiative, a series of proposed changes in police operating procedures touching on chokeholds, de-escalation training, reporting of police activity and more.
“The police department already had in place most of the measures that were being called for, but we failed to help the community understand that,” said Young, alluding to earlier talks with the various community players, including reps from Northern Utah Black Lives Matter. “I want to develop understanding on both sides by increasing dialogue, listening and understanding. There may be some critical points where we fail to agree on what is best for Ogden city, but we won’t reach disagreement based on a lack of understanding.”
Likewise, Andrews said complete accord between the sides may not be in the offing. “I don’t know that we’re ever going to get there. It’s a moving target,” she said.
As for specifics, increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the Ogden police force, which is largely white, has been central in some of the calls by those pushing for change and reform. Young said the department is also focused on that, but that it can’t necessarily single-handedly draw a more diverse pool of police candidates.
“The fundamental change that must take place is an understanding that it is the responsibility of the entire community to help their police department attract diverse candidates. Individuals from diverse backgrounds need to be encouraged by their parent, mentors and peers to pursue a career in law enforcement for them to consider it,” he said.