This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank's forced resignation smacks of desperation politics by Mayor Ralph Becker, whose administration potentially faces a high-profile sexual-harassment lawsuit while he is embroiled in a tough re-election bid.
The harassment allegations by three current and former female officers against ex-Deputy Chief Rick Findlay are troubling, and Burbank's decision to put Findlay on paid leave and let him retire with no real punishment can be sincerely questioned.
But that all transpired a year ago, and Becker remained relatively silent about it until this summer when the women notified the city of their intent to sue. Then the two-term mayor wanted Burbank to join him at a news conference and publicly apologize. When the chief refused to play Becker's straight man, he was out.
The inaction on the harassment scandal and Burbank's stance against processing all rape kits invite legitimate criticism. But, on the whole, Burbank was the best chief Utah's capital has had in my memory.
He was a cop's cop and stood solidly behind his officers when he believed they deserved it. But he was a disciplinarian when he had to be and balked at legislative proposals to turn his officers into illegal-immigration enforcers.
That was apparent when an officer refused to ride his motorcycle in last year's Pride Parade. Burbank put him on paid leave while he assessed if the officer had an anti-gay bias. The officer eventually resigned.
Burbank's personal involvement with angry protesters on more than one occasion calmed the standoffs and helped prevent them from turning violent. He had a simple charge for officers assigned near downtown's Temple Square during the LDS Church's twice-yearly General Conferences when anti-Mormon ranters sometimes harassed and insulted Latter-day Saints: Treat everybody respectfully, protect everybody's rights of freedom of speech and religion and maintain an environment where nobody has to be arrested. When I observed those confrontations, the police lived up to that command.
Burbank also had good relationships with reporters because he understood and respected their roles, unlike some of his predecessors.
I remember the pressures put on The Salt Lake Tribune during the administration of Ruben Ortega, the chief under then-Mayor Deedee Corradini in the 1990s who was upset with stories about alleged police brutality and called to have a reporter reassigned.
When the reporter was arrested for soliciting sex from a prostitute, the department did not release the police report for several days. I personally got a call from Ortega, whom I had a decent relationship with. He told me he was waiting on our editor to fire the reporter. When that didn't happen, the police report was released and The Tribune was embarrassed.
I cannot imagine that tactic coming from Burbank. He would have treated that case like any other.
Then their was the colorful E.L. "Bud" Willoughby, the chief in the 1970s when Ted Wilson was mayor. He famously went to the site of an alleged bomb to disarm it while putting a garbage can over his head for protection. His leadership of the department came to an end when an investigative report revealed that he and two City Council members planned a coup, of sorts, to take over the city's personnel department.
The most sensational dispute between a police chief and a Salt Lake City mayor came during the 1960s, when the flamboyant J. Bracken Lee fired Chief W. Cleon Skousen, the fierce anti-communist crusader, after Skousen ordered his underlings to ignore the mayor's policies and confine their loyalties only to him.
Before Skousen was ousted and the battle between the two evolved into a daily story, The Tribune took Lee's side on its editorial pages. The paper's reporters were warned by some police officers to watch their backs. The fear was they might be targets of retaliation by Skousen loyalists.
Yes, we're going to miss Chris Burbank.