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The Department continues training for officers with policy change

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City, without admitting any fault or liability, has settled a case brought by the ACLU on behalf of former West High School students. The settlement reinforces policy changes already being implemented by the Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) and its School Resource Officer (SRO) program.

The recently-settled federal civil rights lawsuit was brought by three West High School students following a one-time gang intervention on school grounds in 2010. During the joint operation, some students were interviewed about their gang affiliation and, where they acknowledged gang affiliation, they were entered into a database identifying those students as gang members or gang associates. The settlement comes after the City defeated the plaintiffs’ attempts to certify this case as a class action.

While the operation was only conducted once, the settlement ensures similar interventions will not happen. In addition to outlining investigatory stop guidelines, the settlement lays out the responsibilities and duties for SROs, many of which had already been put into practice by Interim Chief of Police Mike Brown over the last year.

“We are looking at having consistent, positive interaction between our SROs and the students within our school district,” Chief Brown said. “Our officers are mentoring and building face-to-face relationships with the youth, in an effort to break down barriers that have been built up in the past. We see this settlement as a win-win for us and the community and it represents a path for moving forward.”

The SLCPD and ACLU are intent on reducing disproportionate minority contact, where minority students in schools have contact with law enforcement at a greater frequency than white students do. To help accomplish this goal, the SLCPD has agreed to provide its SROs with annual training on disproportionate minority contact, implicit bias, adolescent development, and specific techniques for working with youth, among other topics.

SLCPD’s commitment to positive interactions between students and law enforcement officers pre-dates the recent settlement. In January, school administrators attended training developed by SLCPD in conjunction with the School District, the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice and others, aimed at clarifying the roles of SROs and school administrators as well as reducing student referrals into the juvenile justice system. The training also addressed cultural awareness, implicit bias, and the problem of disproportionate minority contact. SLCPD is also in the process of providing the newly developed training to all its officers including all SROs.

Additionally, the Utah Legislature passed House Bill 460 this session, which requires minimum essential training for school principals and SROs and requires any schools with SROs to clarify the SROs’ role in the school community.