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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Discussions around police: budgets and tweets

May 08, 2018 03:37PM ● By Cassie Goff

City Hall on the day of its grand opening. Many residents showed up to a recent city council meeting to show support for the Cottonwood Heights Police Department. (Dan Metcalf/Cottonwood Heights)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

Many residents commented on the Cottonwood Heights Police Department (CHPD) during the city council meeting on March 27.  Residents spoke on two different issues regarding the CHPD: one regarding a tweet sent out on the CHPD’s twitter page, the other regarding concerns over funds allocated to the police in the city’s budget.

On Wednesday, March 14, many Brighton High School students supported the national walkout movement by standing in silence for 17 minutes to remember the lives of the 17 students killed at the Parkland school shooting. That same morning, the CHPD sent out a tweet that read, “Brighton High student protest @ 10:00. Many students used the opportunity to go to 7-Eleven.”

Many of the Brighton High School students who organized and supported the walkout came to voice their concerns to the city council.

“The tweet felt demeaning,” said student Meg Flynn. “I’m one of the student organizers for the walkout. It took a lot of work to create and to get all the students involved.”

“This was a mourning service. It was a beautiful event,” said student Nive Lakey. “The teachers did make it clear that it was not an opportunity to cut class.”

“I seriously doubt the claim many students went to 7-Eleven,” student Isaac Reese said. “The CHPD has indicated that their account was not monitored and they are incapable of using social media. A change would be good for the community and the department.”

“I wish that the CHPD would show more support for students who are trying to show support to those who have died from gun violence,” said student Dylan Gleeson.

“We are part of the system. We are taking time to be part of the community,” Reese said.

During the beginning of the council meeting, Police Chief Robby Russo made a public statement. “That tweet was sent out by me. It was a matter of fact statement. Some perceived it to be disrespectful and that was not the intent. I applaud the protest and personally support the concept. There is no room for violence in our schools. As officers, we have dealt with children who have died by gun violence. We had to hold them in our arms. We had to go and tell the parents that their child was dead. That never leaves us.”  

Resident Anna McNammer addressed Russo’s statement. “A public apology here means nothing when our whole community is watching Facebook.”

Councilmember Christine Mikell asked the students for suggestions on how the city council could show them support. “Reach out to us and involve us. We applaud you and are supportive of your comments,” Mikell said.

The students returned the following week, April 3, to discuss such suggestions with the council.

“We got together to discuss what we are looking for,” Reese said. “We suggest having social media run by one person who is trained in that, so there is never a miscommunication.”

“I propose a policy regarding tweets. Is it informative, factually true, and does it avoid subject inferences? If a tweet goes out, and we feel like it goes too far, we issue an apology,” said Councilmember Tali Bruce.

“We would like to be sensitive in our communication,” Mayor Mike Peterson said. “One thing I have learned is: I can’t tell someone how they feel. We have some priorities for communication among media channels, and how to deal with that internally.”

 “We applaud you for being as active as you are,” Peterson told the students. “We want the students at Brighton to feel comfortable to contact us. Any one of us would take a personal call. If it’s a question, need for help, reach out to us, whatever it might be.”

Many residents attended the same city council meeting on March 27 to talk in favor of the CHPD. Over the past few months, the Cottonwood Heights City Council has been reviewing budget priorities during budget retreat meetings. During one of those meetings, a question was brought up about contracting with a different police service instead of continuing to allocate money for CHPD.

“I moved to Cottonwood Heights in 1975,” said resident Jon Ferrin. “The CHPD cares about the community in a positive way. I see them at public events and mingling with the community. Crime is being broken up here. I would hate to see the level of community support and involvement diminished in any way by outsourcing to any agency and reducing the number of officers. Please don’t change it.”

Susan Holton told the council about her experience living within city boundaries for 35 years. Before Cottonwood Heights was incorporated, the police service was under the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake (UPD). It took a UPD officer three hours to respond to her call. Under CHPD, there were three officers on her street within five minutes of her call. “I am incredibly grateful for our police department,” Holton said. “Budget does not go over safety.”

“I’ve been a resident for 21 years,” said Greg Westin. “Ten years ago, when I had someone break in, the sheriff’s department called me with a case number. When I had my car broken into recently, the CHPD officer called me six times to follow up. I wouldn’t sacrifice services for the dollar.”

Resident Kaylee Ronier expressed her gratitude for CHPD as well. “The officers have responded so many times in the last year,” she said in regards to her son who has special needs. “The officers have saved my son from getting hurt, or worse. Response times mean so much to our family.”

“Safety is the number one priority,” said resident Sheila Jennings. “You get what you pay for. I remember when Cottonwood Heights had long response times because the officers would be in Herriman and Magna. It was a bigger problem than it should have been. Russo takes great care in the funding he is given. He built this department into what it is today.”

Ian Adams, executive director of the Utah State Fraternal Order of Police, also addressed the council representing the largest police organization in the state. “You have above average officers in Cottonwood Heights. This is the most wanted post for experienced officers. This department is the only one who isn’t suffering from an officer shortage. Their success comes partly from the support of the city council. So morale takes a serious blow when the council talks about the cost without a discussion about the level of service and sacrifices the officers have made. Fiscal responsibility requires good value in officers. They make sacrifices that occur every single day. Four or five officers won’t be home tonight to keep you safe. They don’t do it to receive public admiration. These officers put citizens first, so put those officers first.”