It didn’t happen overnight, but engaged activism is making a difference in the relationship between the Salt Lake City Police Department and minority communities.
And the same thing could happen in Ogden if its police department seizes the opportunity.
In 2016, Lex Scott started a “community activist group” — referred to as CAG — to hold bi-monthly meetings with Salt Lake City Police Department officials after several incidents with the city’s officers sparked protests, including the February 2016 police shooting of 17-year-old Abdullahi Mohamed.
Scott also started Salt Lake City’s Black Lives Matter group and is a longtime Utah activist who has pressed for recognition and improvement on civil liberties issues, especially when people of color are concerned.
In October 2016, Salt Lake City Weekly published a story noting the ongoing engagement between Scott’s CAG and the SLC police, describing “candid” conversations and CAG’s requests for things like the release of body cam footage within 24 hours and a study on racial profiling in traffic stops.
By February 2017, the Salt Lake Tribune reported progress. Salt Lake City police now post use-of-force data and statistics on its website. And the hunches of CAG members were right — there is an unexplained and much higher prevalence of police brutality complaints among people of color. Police told the Tribune they were examining their stats and working harder on recruiting a more diverse police force.
They also added an online complaint button to the site to make reporting issues of police abuse easier.
It’s not a complete solution and it’s not enough, Scott told the Trib back then. But it’s a start.
At the end of October, Ogden held its first Black Lives Matter meeting, led by Scott. Earlier this week, an Ogden branch of CAG had its first meeting with Ogden police. Much of what they asked for is similar to what the CAG asked from Salt Lake City — study racial biases, make filing complaints easier and be more transparent.
And keep the lines of communication open all the time — not just if/when there is a crisis.
The requests are practical. They are not unfair or biased against police. They would give law enforcement more opportunity to hear valuable critical feedback from the communities that most want to have positive interactions with police.
The Ogden Police Department, as Scott acknowledged to Standard-Examiner reporter Tim Vandenack, is doing a lot right already. Working with CAG can only help make things better for all of us.