A Cop After My Own Heart

Chief Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City PD

I have never met the guy but it seems like we came out of the same school of policing.

Here’s some of Chief Burbank’s recent statements on policing:

In response to Salt Lake City’s Occupy Movement:


On evicting protesters: “When it came time to evict the Occupy protesters in Pioneer Park, then, Burbank and his officers wore their standard, everyday uniforms, not riot gear, as police units in other cities had. Burbank also made sure he was first on the scene — that the first person the protesters saw was the one with whom they had already had a conversation. Most of the 200 protesters left voluntarily. Some took advantage of Burbank’s offer to have his officers help with their belongings. Nineteen chose to be arrested. There was no violence, no rioting and little anger. And so as images of violent clashes between Occupiers and police in other cities made headlines across the country, in Utah, some Occupiers even praised Burbank for the way he had handled their eviction. It’s one reason why the Salt Lake Tribune named Burbank its 2011 ‘Utahn of the Year.’”

On use of force by police: “Be it the drug war, immigration, or the handling of protests, Burbank’s mantra to his officers is the same: Use the minimum amount of force necessary to resolve the situation. Or as Burbank puts it, ‘It’s not can I do it, but should I do it?’”

On use of riot gear: “I just don’t like the riot gear,” Burbank says. “Some say not using it exposes my officers to a little bit more risk. That could be, but risk is part of the job. I’m just convinced that when we don riot gear, it says ‘throw rocks and bottles at us.’ It invites confrontation. Two-way communication and cooperation are what’s important. If one side overreacts, then it all falls apart.”

On enforcing immigration laws: “He vocally opposes using local and state police to enforce immigration law, and in fact has barred his own officers from questioning Salt Lake residents about their immigration status. In testimony before Congress in 2010 (PDF), Burbank explained that it’s impossible for police officers to look for and detain possibly undocumented immigrants without the use of racial profiling, and without subjecting Latinos who are U.S. citizens to unnecessary harassment.”

On police militarization: “Last July, Burbank weighed in on the issue of police militarization during an interview with the Deseret News. He said he worried that police were becoming too aggressive and too willing to use force. ‘We’re not the military,’ Burbank said at the time. ‘Nor should we look like an invading force coming in.’”

On diversity: “I think that has been the single biggest influence on how I approach my job,” he says. “The diversity that my parents and grandparents exposed me to was really important. They had friends of all races, friends who spoke different languages, gay and lesbian friends. I was exposed to different cultures and people of different nationalities at an early age. And that often meant staying in their homes. While staying with a Muslim family in Pakistan as a teen, Burbank learned to play squash. He toured as a professional squash player for seven years and was one of the top ranked players in the world before he finally decided to become a police officer.”

On policing goals: “I have two goals in policing. First, we need to humanize our police forces. We aren’t an occupying force. We are a part of the community. And we need to understand that to do our jobs, we sometimes need to expose ourselves to a little bit of risk. Otherwise we end up doing our jobs out of paranoia, not out of dignity and respect for the community. Second, no bias in what we do. We need to recognize that we have emotions, and learn to dial that back a little bit. One of the most important traits in a good police officer is empathy.”

I just love this guy! Hope other police leaders are following his lead. And, if they are, let’s get together and talk!

[To read the entire article in the Huffington Post on October 30, 2013, about Chris and his policing philosophy CLICK HERE.]

[And to read my new book which supports what Burbank and other reform chiefs are doing CLICK HERE.]


  1. Wow. I like what he has to say. I believe that we are to quick to pound our chest and invite confrontation. I strongly believe that a conversation can take us so much further than physical force. I love the part about humanizing. I agree that throwing on riot gear is an invitation however I also believe there is a time and a place for riot gear and it should be used to keep ourselves safe. I don’t really have a stance on immigration and enforcing those laws because it is not an issue here. I respect his thought process on it.

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Chief Couper,

    Would you consider forwarding your review of Chief Burbank to the Madison PFC?

    Youre doing such important work. Thank you.



  3. Thank you for posting this, Chief. This is very refreshing. You don’t hear this kind of candid, challenging talk from too many police administrators. This is kind of how I would talk about issues when I was still involved in police recruit testing. Ultimately, I decided that my critiques of the system–the drug war, police militarization, officer safety training that induces paranoia, etc–would have just made me a target. Basically, that’s why I opted out.

    The photos of Burbank taking the lead–in uniform, no less–were great. From my observations, too many police supervisors and managers seem to think that promotion means the chance to sit behind a desk and look important. Chief Burbank obviously disagrees with this notion. Great stuff!


  4. “I just don’t like the riot gear,” Burbank says. “Some say not using it exposes my officers to a little bit more risk. That could be, but risk is part of the job. I’m just convinced that when we don riot gear, it says ‘throw rocks and bottles at us.”

    Some people ‘just don’t like’ obeying the law. I’m convinced you are exposing YOUR[?] department for some litigation–among other things. Wonder how long this guy worked the street. Seems to be more of a philosopher than a police-r. Sometimes things look great on paper, and sound great to lay persons. Glad I don’t work at the same department.


      1. No thanks, Success is relative in government work. Perhaps this is why Madison is called the 77 square miles surrounded by reality.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.