Mayor Becker Issues Statement on Corrective Actions Related to PD Sexual Harassment Incidents
A couple of weeks ago, a well- documented sexual harassment claim in our Police Department received renewed public attention in the context of a threatened lawsuit against the City. This event created additional public discussion and the victims raised understandable questions about how this matter was handled by Salt Lake City. As I stated at the time, sexual harassment is unacceptable in Salt Lake City government. Period.
In our City — and in City government — everyone should feel included and protected. In this specific case involving legitimate and substantiated claims of sexual harassment by a supervisor in the Police Department, we have three officers who were betrayed by a superior. Their claims were brought to the attention of and reviewed by the City's Human Resources Department and Police Civilian Review Board — two very competent and professional organizations within City government. They both completed a thorough investigation, and both investigations sustained the allegations.
While the offending police officer is no longer working for Salt Lake City, unfortunately this matter was not handled in the way I had directed at the time.
In fact, Chief Burbank's decision was contrary to specific direction from my office. In recent private conversations with me he had repeatedly asserted that he believed, and continues to believe, his actions were sufficient; this was also evident in his recent comments to the media on this topic. The Chief can speak for himself regarding the rationale for his decisions. Today, I am sharing with you the details of actions I took with Chief Burbank a year ago when he did not properly manage this situation.
This corrective action letter was sent to the Chief immediately following his inaction regarding the offending officer. The letter in many ways speaks for itself, but the upshot is that I, through my Chief of Staff David Everitt, in coordination with our Human Resources Department and the City Attorney's Office, had urged our Police Chief to, at a minimum, demote the offending officer and take corrective measures to avoid future incidents of sexual harassment. The Police Chief did not follow our direction, and has taken only modest steps to implement the strong corrective actions outlined in the letter. These actions specifically included additional training and protective procedures for police officers. We have been monitoring the measures outlined in this corrective letter to Chief Burbank over the past year to determine if he was implementing them within the Salt Lake City Police Department, and while some implementation has taken place,, on balance the Chief has fallen below my expectations.
Also over the past year since this situation arose, my team and I have struggled with a difficult situation. We have wanted to protect the privacy of personnel actions, particularly the victims whose identities remained private until they chose to go public a couple of weeks ago. We also didn't want to minimize the remarkable service of Chief Burbank and the ways in which he has reflected the high ideals of Salt Lake City government and our City.
Because this unusual situation involves a long serving and well respected Department Director I directly supervise, I wanted to give Chief Burbank one more opportunity to reflect on his decision and jointly address this issue with me in an acceptable manner. Unfortunately, we have been unable to reach agreement.
So it is with personal regret, that I announce today Chief Burbank's departure from Salt Lake City government. He has honored Salt Lake City in many ways by his service, and has made us proud in the way he has protected so many people in our community. His strong advocacy for civil rights, protection and inclusion of all residents of the City in our public safety umbrella, and personal actions to recognize the rights of everyone to exercise their first amendment rights — as he did in the Occupy Salt Lake and Tim DeChristopher protests — defused difficult situations and reflected well on our City and policing. I'm grateful for his service and that he has stayed as long as he has. But it's now time to turn the page and begin a new chapter in policing in Salt Lake City.
I'm naming Deputy Chief Mike Brown as interim Chief for the next several months. He has a wonderful record of service in Salt Lake City and will provide continuing strong protection in our community while recognizing the rights of everyone and maintaining the trust that is at the core of policing in Salt Lake City. The people of Salt Lake City can rest assured that the Salt Lake City Police Department — made up of hundreds of exceptional, dedicated officers and civilians — is on the job, protecting and serving as they always have.
I am hopeful that my actions today have another important result: I want every woman in Salt Lake City government to know that we value your public service and that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. My administration has demonstrated over and over again a commitment to gender equality in the workplace. That said, I know that Salt Lake City government still has much to do to address improving equality and justice for women and minorities in our ranks. I am committed to continue taking actions to accomplish our goals of justice and equality.
On a personal note, I want to apologize again to our female officers involved in this situation. The pain and suffering you and your loved ones faced is terribly wrong, demeaning, and grossly unfair. Having your circumstances exposed through the media can only make these incidents more difficult. I hope you can find peace and solace in the years ahead.
Now, I want to address some of the statements about my leadership on this issue. Critics have suggested that I and the City have been lax and have not taken these allegations and behaviors seriously. And, they have suggested that the City has inadequate policies and procedures in place and therefore tolerates hostile and discriminatory behavior in the workplace.
If you examine the facts, especially in light of the more complete information available today, I believe you'll find these assertions are wrong.
As your Mayor, I also want to take a moment to talk about my personal views and experience on this difficult matter.
As we have seen over the past two weeks, there is no doubt that in an election year, my opponents will seek to use any and all actions of my Administration to their political advantage. This is unfortunate. I have strengths and weaknesses, like anyone. And, as a Mayor up for reelection, I expect criticism and open airing of disagreements. However, for anyone who knows me — and some of my most vocal critics know me quite well — they know that I stand firmly and unequivocally for the just, fair, decent and equal treatment of all people. My first act as Mayor was to successfully pursue an end to discrimination that existed in our laws for the LGBT community. That commitment has helped guide our Administration from day one to today. The suggestion that I would be in any way apathetic or cavalier about sexual harassment in a City department or in any other workplace is offensive.
This is an election year, and I understand how a campaign can heighten rhetoric. Fair enough. I welcome the challenge. But our political process should focus on legitimate areas of policy and leadership differences among the mayoral candidates and not trivialize or politicize issues as serious as sexual harassment, which involve victims who deserve respect and privacy. I also expect that all of those involved in Salt Lake City mayoral politics this year will maintain civility consistent with the pledge I, and I presume other candidates, made when we filed for office.