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SLC Police Chief Reflects On Downtown Riot Nearly One Year Later

SALT LAKE CITY, UtahProtests and riots broke out around the country a year ago following the death of George Floyd. That unrest later spread to Salt Lake City.

Police Chief Mike Brown and other city leaders called for peace while images of a burning police car that had been flipped and a large, angry crowd played out on live television. 

Brown sat down with KSL-TV nearly a year after the riot to reflect back on the day that changed Salt Lake City and his department. 

“Never seen anything like that,” said Chief Mike Brown with the Salt Lake City Police Department. “We’ve had protests and we’ve had small things of civil unrest, but nothing like we saw on May 30th.” 

This weekend will mark one year since the downtown riot.  

“We just weren’t ready for what we got,” said Brown.  

He faced criticism for not sending officers to the scene faster. 

Looking back, we asked him if he had any regrets. 

“I wouldn’t say regrets. I think you progress and you learn, and if you don’t learn from those mistakes or the things you could’ve done better, that’s where the regret would come,” he said. 

After that day, Brown said his department changed their planning and would jump in right away with any future protests that included violence or vandalism. 

When another protest got out of control at the District Attorney’s office a few weeks later, police were ready. 

“From the time that was declared an unlawful assembly until we had shut that down and moved people out, (it took) 18 minutes,” said Brown. “That’s a stark difference.” 

In all, Brown said his officers handled close to 300 protests and marches in 2020.  

Most of them were peaceful, but they required a constant police presence.  

“We had to put people on callout and standby, and then we suspended vacation and days off,” said Brown. “A lot of officers didn’t get to do the things they wanted to do with their families.”

The effect? Officers retired or resigned.  

As of late May, Brown said the Salt Lake City Police Department was down 45 officers.

Although more than 30 new officers are in training, crime statistics have increased. However, Brown emphasized the public is safe.

“They’re safe, they’re safe, and let me tell you why. We prioritize our calls,” said Brown. “When something comes in, if it’s a person-to-person crime and it’s active and going on right now, that will go out all over the air, and officers all over the city will drop what they’re doing and respond to that.” 

However, the Salt Lake Commission on Racial Equality said there must be change in the way officers interact with people, particularly people of color. 

One of the recommendations was to hire more officers of color, especially in leadership positions, and re-train all officers on diversity and mental health. 

Brown said that was happening.

“As we get more officers in our department, we will have more time to do those things, but these things are a priority and these are things that people want,” said Brown.  

The Chief also said he was proud of the job the department has done in the past year, not just with protests, but with COVID-19, the earthquake, the windstorm, the vice-presidential debate, and on the nearly 123,000 calls for service the department had in 2020. 

“Everything that happened in 2020, the police reform, policing, is never going to be the same. It’s going to be different,” said Brown. “But it’s okay because it’s going to be better.”

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