Holladay officers help control protest in Cottonwood Heights as part of mutual aid agreement
Aug 26, 2020 02:19PM
By Zak Sonntag
(Justin Adams/The City Journals)
By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]
Three Holladay police officers were summoned to help manage a Cottonwood Heights protest on Aug. 2 that escalated into violence and whose handling is under investigation by two separate public entities.
The Holladay officers found themselves in Cottonwood Heights as a part of a “mutual aid agreement,” a common statewide practice in which jurisdictions provide one another support during emergencies.
“In law enforcement we all want the same thing, we want to provide the services to the communities we serve, and it’s common practice that if we’re able to help another jurisdiction that needs our help, we will,” said Holladay Precinct Chief Justin Hoyal.
The Aug. 2 protest underscores the way that despite police forces serving distinct communities and municipalities, the challenges of one department can become the challenges of another. It also raises concerns about the need for uniform standards of enforcement, which is prompting discussions of state-level involvement in local jurisdictions, a prospect that’s unpopular with most police chiefs.
The issue of jurisdictional overlap is especially salient in the context of the Aug. 2 demonstration—a protest against police brutality—in a city whose force has faced a growing discontent since 2018 when city officers shot and killed 18-year-old Zane James.
But the mutual aid agreement also raises questions of liability. Currently, the Aug. 2 event is under investigations from the city and the district attorney. If officers from outside municipalities, like Holladay, were found guilty of misconduct, whose jurisdiction would be on the hook for restitution?
Under the mutual aid agreement, each independent department is “liable for its own negligent acts or omissions…and no party shall have any liability whatsoever for any negligent act…of any other party,” according to the contract.
Also, assisting officers are required to “follow the lawful directions of the Incident Commander,” which lies within the jurisdiction requesting support. But this may create dissonance for officers from cities with varying approaches to things like protest management. For instance, Salt Lake City Police Department has chosen to afford protesters more leeway, even in the event of material damage, believing it serves the community more to minimize violent confrontation between residents and police. Cottonwood Heights, on the other hand, exhibited a heavier hand when dealing with the protesters on Aug. 2.
“In Salt Lake City, they adopted the idea that a little vandalism is OK….We don’t have that luxury,” Cottonwood Heights Chief Robby Russo told the Deseret News following the event.
Beyond legal implications, departments affect one another in the reputations they garner, because all forces traffic under the same moniker—police—which represents the larger institution of state power, an institution whose credibility has been visibly on the defensive in recent months. Across Utah, there are 146 different law enforcement agencies, from the state level, to counties, cities, universities, multijurisdictional agencies and others, according the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
A bad wrap in one agency can infect another, leading to the diminishment of morale across jurisdictions.
“It’s hard for officers. People come up and say mean things, flip them off and make rude gestures. We brush it off. But anytime people are saying those things it hurts,” Hoyal said.
Locals Boost Morale
In the City of Holladay some are trying to combat the slip in morale with shows of thanks, including letters, lunches and snacks. The Holladay Lions Club on two occasions in August brought pizza to the Holladay precinct.
“The police have been getting a lot of criticism, and we felt it was important to show them that our community cares,” said Bill Barton, president of the Holladay chapter of the Lions Club International, one of the world’s largest service organization with a mission to “Create and foster a spirit of understanding among all peoples.”
“More than getting the pizza, they appreciated being thanked for their services. And its timely because they are getting criticism from all around. We felt really good about it. We take pride in our department and we’re glad to give them recognition,” Barton said.
Small gestures go a long way.
“Really nice of them to do that and recognize us, especially with the tone that’s out there right now. It helps a lot,” Hoyal said.
At a recent city council meeting Hoyal shared noteworthy examples of officer service.
In one instance, officer Easton Story responded to a case of mail theft and discovered a multitude of loose mail strewn across a community street.
“Most officers would have taken the initial report, booked the property into evidence and had detectives follow-up,” Hoyal explained in his quarterly report. But instead, Story went beyond standard protocol, collected all the mail, then sorted it and personally delivered it to its proper recipients and spoke with them about how to fix their mailboxes.
In another example from the quarterly report, UPD officer Josh Thomas discovered a male hiding on a property in Holladay. Thomas determined the male was a transient and not a threat. Then Thomas gave the man a ride, bought him breakfast, and gave him some cash when they parted ways.
“It’s important to let our police know they’re appreciated, because we need them,” Barton said.