Newsmaker Interview: Former SLC police chief Chris Burbank assesses city’s response to protests, need to revise use-of-lethal-force policy

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, July 13, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Chris Burbank knows what it’s like to run a cop shop in turbulent times.

As Salt Lake City’s chief of police from 2006 to 2015, he dealt with and defused a steady stream of contentious issues — from the intense public outcry over a questionable investigation into the disappearance and death of a 5-year-old girl, to the Trolley Square massacre, which killed five and wounded six.

There was the occupation of Pioneer Park by hundreds of self-described anarchists who vowed to fight rather than cede control of their makeshift camp which they occupied for days.

And then, there were the 15 officer-involved shootings, all of them ruled justified.

While these incidents triggered protests and public demonstrations, none of them turned violent to any significant degree — something Burbank believes didn’t happen by accident.

In a wide-ranging interview with Bill Gephardt, owner of Gephardt Daily, the former Utah lawman, now a Vice President for the nationally renowned Center for Policing Equity, provides a pointed assessment of America’s law enforcement culture and the institutional challenges being faced by police in Salt Lake City and across the country.

To hear Burbank’s unvarnished assessment of SLCPD’s response to the recent unrest and the kind of changes he believes Utah law enforcement needs to embrace to gain the trust of all its citizens, please click on the video player above.


  1. Mr. Gephardt,
    I listened to your podcast interview with former SLCPD Chief C Burbank and being a former Asst. Chief of Chris Burbank’s, I think he has some very valid points involving the escalation by police in certain circumstances and we need to avoid this approach. He speaks of meeting with the protestors like he did with the DeChristopher protest. That was a good example of how to de-escalate a problem, but note, these people were only blocking traffic. They had no desire to be violent, which is a whole different animal. There may have been mistakes made by Chief Brown, but former Chief Burbank has never handled protests like what SLCPD, and Chief Brown are dealing with today in Salt Lake City.
    You asked him a question about how we should defund the police without getting rid of the police, he answered “line item budget scratches.” He said, “Armored vehicle $500,000 (savings) and warrior training (thousands).” Although some police misuse this equipment, there is a real need for the armored vehicle and warrior training. Who do you think responds to the active shooter? Where do you think the training came from for the officers that stopped the Trolley Square shooting that could have been much worse than it ended up. By the way, Chris was out of town during this tragic event and it was handled by the command staff.
    We need to hire and train officers that have the education and training to work in the guardian mode the majority of the time, but have the skillset necessary to respond to a killing in progress or violent crimes, which is when the warrior training is essential.
    You asked him about the shooting in Salt Lake City where Bernard was shot multiple times. He talked about how Sim Gill must follow the law and only consider a small moment in time to justify the use of deadly force. I wasn’t part of this screening but I’ve been involved with many screenings with the DA and I know he considers the totality of circumstances. What Chris was trying to say, but didn’t do a good job, was that Sim has to view the totality of circumstances from the perspective of the officer at the moment in time of the incident, we can’t arm chair quarterback the case two weeks to two months after from our desks and rule by emotion of the event.
    I’m not fully briefed on the Bernard case but this boy was just released from jail or prison, had robbed three people by pointing a gun at their heads and when confronted ran, dropped the gun, picked it up, dropped it again and picked it up and at some point, Mr. Gill stated he pointed it towards the officer. The officers also have to articulate in this case how allowing him to escape could pose more danger to the public. This is the totality of the circumstances.
    Chris said that there should never be an officer involved shooting for a traffic violation – he’s right, there should never by a shooting over traffic but as he knows, because he used to train our officers, there are bad people stopped by police for traffic violations. The officer stops them for speeding then gets shot at by the driver, all along, not knowing the person had just killed someone, robbed a bank, transporting drugs, etc. If you remember, a police officer captured the Oklahoma City bombing suspect because of a traffic violation. Chris is wrong on this account, and needs to be careful about using always in this context.
    Law Enforcement leaders and officers should continually look to do better. We search for the best practices to apply to our profession and best serve our communities. Chris mentioned the firing of officers from “his” department, we were all involved with identifying the employees that had patterns of behavior that didn’t fit our mission and/or public trust.
    During your conversation with Jim Winder, you eluded to the fact that officers don’t “rat” on each other but the news writers do. I beg to differ with your thought. In my career, we are constantly scanning for behaviors and issues that can defeat our mission of serving the public. We received internal and external complaints about officers’ behaviors. We conducted internal investigations on a regular basis, we have records management systems that flag officers for using force at a high rate, we look at the number of complaints and the nature of the complaints. We are not perfect and there may be a better way to gain the trust back, but it all starts with the our citizens, law makers, our hiring practices (like Jim Winder said) people with life experience that can be applied to the situations we deal with daily.
    I’ve served this profession for over 32 years and also have a vested interest in seeing the community and police come together with the common goal of no crime, crime prevention, education and early intervention. We are and can be educators on the streets and in our community.
    Thanks for presenting the topics, but please make sure you are bringing individuals on your podcast that have solutions to the problems and public trust. Chris is divisive and it showed when you asked the question about Mike Brown, he didn’t appear to support Mike and he provided no guidance from his so called “scientific” approach to law enforcement to his former employee. I have always been taught that you should not bring problems forward unless you have an idea for the solution and participate in implementation of the solution.
    The real solution to law enforcement / community relations is documented in the 21 Century Policing document that was produced by a committee formed by President Obama shortly after the Ferguson, MS case. In this document, it is spelled out how law enforcement can gain the trust back and create the legitimacy needed to let the public trust us to enforce their laws. Look at this document, every department in the country should be applying the six pillars in their agencies and communities.
    You asked if we can responsibly defund the police; we can start by reducing the number of minor social problems we are asked to handle in society. Police are called for everything, an ungovernable juvenile that refuses to go to school, why. Why are we called to all of the homeless issues in our communities? Why do we need to be present at every child custody exchange? Every intrusion alarm, when over 90 percent of them are false and the alarm company is making the money off selling our response to their product. This is just a couple of ideas.
    Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts,
    Terry Fritz
    SLCPD Asst. Chief of Police (ret)


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