Salt Lake City Police Department reboots community academy

Oct 1, 2021, 2:34 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Police Department wrapped up its community academy Thursday — its first citizen training course since the start of the pandemic and since protests in Utah and nationwide called for defunding and systemic change in police departments.

“There’s a lot of different opinions out there of what the police are capable of doing,” said Lt. Alma Sweeney, who leads the weeks-long academy.

“I think that’s probably our biggest communication gap that we have right now is being able to provide that understanding to people of what we can do as police officers; what laws, where we’re given the authority to enforce the laws and how that enforcement looks.”

The academy included weeks of classroom instruction on laws, rights and duties and culminated in three scenarios on Thursday. Citizens first acted as police officers during a traffic stop, where the driver jumped out of the car, firing a fake gun; citizens then had to confront a trespasser on private property before finally responding to a domestic violence incident.

“One of the things that was really stressed that I appreciated was that the cops don’t make the laws. The people on the hill make the laws and the cops just enforce them,” said Jeremy Johnston, a pastor who participated in the academy.

“I think it’s super important for people to understand where they’re (police) coming from.”

Jim Vesock from West Valley City has attended citizen academies with several different departments.

He strongly opposes the movement to defund police departments, saying, “when you pick up the phone and dial 911, you don’t want to be put on hold.”

“One of the things I didn’t know about was search and seizure,” said Brandy Farmer.

Farmer said she learned, “what your rights are as an individual, as a community person and also, what the police are able to do and what they’re not able to do.”

On top of opposition to law enforcement, the Salt Lake Police Department and other departments are dealing with staff shortages and response times to 911 calls have also recently increased.

Sweeney emphasized the importance of this type of education to help bring understanding to citizens and officers.

“Some of the frustrations they have in the community. Some of the questions they have with law enforcement. I hope we walk away with a better understanding of how we can serve them better as well,” he said. “We need that as law enforcement. We need that community support.”

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Salt Lake City Police Department reboots community academy