Once the decision was made last November to evict Occupy protesters from their encampment at Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City, Chris Burbank was ready. The police chief drew from his own past experiences -- including his stint managing the police force in Salt Lake City’s Olympic Village in 2002, his 15 years on the force prior to becoming chief and even a cross-country tour as a professional squash player before becoming a cop -- to find common ground with the protesters.
Burbank and his officers spent an entire night going tent to tent, calmly explaining to the Occupiers that they had a choice: They could either fold up their tents and return during regular park hours to continue their protest, or face arrest. By morning, about 200 demonstrators had decided to leave. Eighteen chose to be arrested for their cause, all of them peacefully.
Burbank’s diplomatic resolution stands in stark contrast to violent clashes in other cities between police and Occupy protesters last fall. In fact, his approach earned him the designation as Utahn of the Year by The Salt Lake Tribune in December. For Burbank, it’s simple. “We all have to agree to meet in the middle,” he says. “If that doesn’t happen, you don’t have peaceful conclusions.”