In November 2011, a homeless man estimated to be in his 40s was found dead in a tent at the Occupy encampment in Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park. He died from a mix of a drug overdose and carbon monoxide poisoning from a portable heater. The incident prompted city officials to determine that it was no longer safe for the protesters to camp in the park overnight.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, 46, was in charge of the eviction. But Burbank took a decidedly different approach from his counterparts in other cities who used aggressive, confrontational measures to oust their own Occupy encampments.
Burbank showed up at the camp and talked to the protesters, in some cases one on one. He explained that they’d need to start leaving the park at night, although they could come back during the day. He said that when the time came for them leave, they could do so peacefully, or they could choose to be arrested. He even asked them how they’d like their arrests to take place, in case they wanted the TV and newspaper cameras to photograph them giving themselves up for their cause.
Unconventional has been Burbank’s modus operandi since he was appointed chief of police in 2006. 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?”