‘Militarization’ of local police nationwide worries Salt Lake City Chief Chris Burbank

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank is concerned about the militarization of police forces nationwide.

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In a meeting with the Deseret News editorial board this week, he spoke specifically about his concerns about any future law that would make local police enforce federal immigration laws, saying, “If laws interject bias into policing, that may be when I no longer can continue this career.”

That’s hardly a new position for Burbank, who has been consistently outspoken in his opposition to immigration reform laws that would involve local policing agencies. But much of what he said about the “militarization” of policing nationwide could apply to other recent incidents, as well.

Perhaps the most prominent of these is the case of three female college students in Virginia who were accosted in their car by plainclothes Alcoholic Beverage Control officers outside a grocery store last April. (Read an account of the incident here.)

The officers believed the girls had just purchased beer despite being under-aged. They flashed badges the girls said they couldn’t see clearly, then tried to enter the car.

Frightened, the girls dialed 911. The driver started the car, which led to one officer drawing a gun. The girls attempted to drive away, apparently grazing two of the officers. The driver was arrested and faced a possible 15-year prison sentence, but charges were quietly dropped June 28.

The ABC, however, has not apologized nor backed off original statements justifying the actions of the officers and blaming the young woman for driving off and striking two of them.

Oh, and the beer? It turned out to be a case of bottled water the girls bought for a sorority philanthropy event.

But even if it had been beer, was this sort of force necessary?

If you have a daughter, what would you want her to do if strange people jumped on her car and pulled a gun, especially if they weren’t dressed like police?

Chief Burbank said Americans ought to know that wherever they go in the United States they can expect fair and consistent policing, “and we don’t have that now.”

“We’re not the military,” he said. “Nor should we look like an invading force coming in.”

Burbank said he emphasizes the need for his officers to be involved in the community. The city’s new Public Safety Building, which is scheduled to open next month, tries to symbolize this. It is an architecturally open building in which people may enter the first level without worrying about security.

He said police need to do more than just show up and deal with problems.

They also need to do more than scare the life out of young people or approach relatively minor problems in ways that escalate tensions and lead to the possibility of using deadly force.

Add me to the list of people who believe heads should roll in Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control offices.

Categories: Crime

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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