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."
"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."
Burbank also dismisses the idea that his approach could only work in a smaller city like Salt Lake. "I think it should be applied everywhere. That's exactly how we as a nation should approach these events. We should approach it asking, 'How can we best facilitate these people's free speech?' Putting them nine miles away from whatever they're protesting doesn't allow them to get their message across.