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‘It’s my top priority’: Utah lawmaker wants task force to study violence against Native American women

Utah may soon have a task force dedicated to studying violence experienced by Native American women.

According to the United States Department of Justice, American Indian women face a murder rate that is more than 10 times the national average. It is particularly a problem in Utah, which ranks eighth in states with the highest number of missing or murdered indigenous women cases.

This year, Utah lawmakers are trying to address that violence. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is sponsoring a bill that would create a task force aimed at studying violence against indigenous women that would compile a report for the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee.

“Native American women are at a higher risk than any other demographic when it comes to sexual violence and domestic abuse,” Romero said, adding that the task force would “identify some systemic issues” and give recommendations for how the state can do “more preventative work.”

Looking at law enforcement records, state and national databases, social media, and news reports, the Urban Indian Health Institute identified 506 cases of missing or murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls across 71 cities. Of these cases, 66 were tied to domestic and sexual violence.

In Salt Lake City, which is one of the cities at which the Urban Health Institute looked, there were 24 cases identified.

The institute notes that these numbers are “likely an undercount” due to “poor data collection by numerous cities.”

One victim of violence in Utah is Maranny “Marena” Hatalie Holiday, whose neighbor, Timothy Lee Smith, shot and killed her on the Navajo reservation in San Juan County in 2015 after a property dispute, according to District of Utah Court documents. Smith admitted to tying a rope around Holiday’s ankles and dragging her body to a hiding place under a tree. She was 62.

Part of the problem, Romero said, is that so many different agencies are involved in investigating violence against indigenous women, which can create “gaps in communication.” If a crime happens on a Native American reservation, the investigation can involve tribal police, local police, and state and federal law enforcement.

“And so we need to find a way to ensure that all these entities are connecting and working together so that people aren’t falling through the cracks and that we bring voice to an issue that is serious enough that we have to force a task force,” Romero said.

House Bill 116 would create a task force comprised of legislators, law enforcement officials, a University of Utah researcher, a tribal representative and a “representative of a victim advocate organization service Utah’s Native American population.”

It would also include a Native American woman who has experienced sexual or domestic violence herself. Romero said it is essential that someone who has been “directly impacted” be on the task force and influence the conversation.

“A lot of times when task forces are comprised, (they don’t) include the people that are directly impacted by what we’re trying to identify,” she said. “So, for me, it was really important to have Native voices and to have a balance of law enforcement … and individuals who are trying to do preventative work in this area.”

The federal task force that studies violence against indigenous women, which President Donald Trump created last November, has been criticized for not having enough input from Native Americans.

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday on the Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the agency that oversees the task force, Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Arizona, said tribal voices should be included.

“We know that sound policy recommendations are created when directly impacted people are at the table sharing their experiences and giving their input,” said Stanton, whose state ranks third in violence against Native American women.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said he agreed that it is important to “hear directly from tribal leaders,” adding that the FBI had met with Navajo Nation officials to discuss the issue.

“We are trying to engage directly and hear from them,” Wray said.

The floor sponsor of Romero’s bill, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, whose district covers the Navajo Nation and part of Utah County, said in January that he was supporting the bill to bring attention to a “big issue” affecting his constituents.

“The main reason I’m doing it is because I represent the Navajo district,” Hinkins said.

The task force would receive a one-time appropriation of $40,000 that would go toward staffing the task force, according to Romero.

Romero said she hopes the task force will help give state lawmakers a comprehensive understanding of how violence impacts Native American women in Utah, and provide the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee with a road map for how to implement policies to prevent future violence and give law enforcement agencies the tools to solve cases.

The main goal of the task force, she said, would be “to identify where the gaps are and to issue a report to the law enforcement committee about what those gaps are” in able to “ensure that we’re doing justice” in the state.

“Will we solve everything? No, but it’s a starting point of where to point us as the Legislature,” Romero said.

The Salt Lake City lawmaker said creating a missing and murdered Indigenous women task force is her primary goal this year.

“Out of all the legislation I’m running this session, it’s my top priority,” she said.

Deaf face uphill battle when searching for work

The following is the third article in the six-part series Deaf in Utah. The next article will run on Feb. 16.

The recruiters liked what they saw. And then they found out that Jonathan Roberts is deaf.

After that, it was a few typed messages about talking to human resources, and then nothing.

After three months of unemployment and a couple dozen job applications, Roberts is used to it.

“Unfortunately, it is common for deaf people here,” Roberts said in American Sign Language, according to a spoken English interpreter.

Roberts has been searching for a job since he was laid off in November. A software engineer with a bachelor’s degree from Weber State University, he’s become used to companies reaching out for interviews, and then backing off.

In one instance, he was using an interpreter on a phone interview when the company found out.

“When I mentioned that I was deaf, they seemed to change,” Roberts said.

Roberts’ experience isn’t uncommon among the deaf. About 53.3% of deaf people ages 25 to 64 were employed in 2017, compared to 75.8% of hearing people who had a job, according to the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes.

Facing barriers

About two to three of every 1,000 children born in the United States have detectable hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. About 15% of American adults report trouble hearing, with hearing loss becoming more common later in life.

Pamela Mower, an employment specialist with Utah’s Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said that deaf people face misconceptions about their ability to work from hearing employers.

“There are a lot of barriers,” Mower, who is deaf, said in ASL, according to a spoken English interpreter.

Those include employers who think that someone can’t do a job if they are unable to speak or hear. Mower said there’s multiple ways to communicate, which can include writing notes, texting, instant messaging or gesturing.

Companies can also be resistant to hiring interpreters for meetings, or think they’ll be sued if they hire and then later fire a deaf employee.

Mower said many deaf individuals with higher education often aren’t given the same opportunity to get supervisory experience as their hearing peers, which can put them behind hearing job candidates.

Many of her clients don’t know their previous job titles because their employers didn’t communicate that information to them. Mower said deaf employers also aren’t often given awards or promoted.

English is also often a deaf person’s second language, which can be a barrier to employment. ASL is considered a separate language from English and is not based on English.

“So often if they are writing notes, they’ll be writing it with an ASL syntax and grammar structure,” Mower said.

That difference can lead to employers receiving emails or job applications from a deaf individual, seeing mistakes and assuming that the deaf individual is not intelligent.

“I know deaf people who are brilliant, but their weakness is English,” she said.

Job postings that use standard phrases like that a candidate must be able to listen to oral instructions can make the deaf and hard of hearing feel unqualified, Mower said. She said that being able to understand oral instructions isn’t necessary for most jobs. She urges companies to change their job posts to reflect what’s really needed to fulfill it.

For a housekeeping job, Mower said, a deaf employee can be paired up with a hearing one who knocks on multiple doors at a time. Or, she said, they could use an app on their phones to see if someone is talking.

Mower helps the deaf with job applications, sets up mock interviews and can arrange for interpreters for job interviews so a company isn’t concerned about it. She also leads deaf cultural sensitivity training. She said that differences in deaf and hearing culture can lead to misunderstandings.

In one instance, Mower said it wasn’t until after a training when coworkers said they didn’t know that their deaf colleague had a sense of humor. In others, she said hearing employees don’t understand that a deaf employee will rap on a desk or tap someone’s shoulder to get their attention. Deaf employees can also think employers are angry because they’re not using facial expressions.

Another barrier Mower said the deaf can face is if they know the terminology for a job, but the interpreter they receive for a job interview doesn’t.

“I think many employers will judge the candidate based on the interpreter’s knowledge and not the deaf person’s knowledge,” she said.

The fear of paying an interpreter, Mower said, can make companies hesitant to hire someone who is deaf. She said that 80% of the time when she tries to set up an interview for a client, the company will say they have to talk to human resources, will say that they don’t know if an interpreter is in the budget and then will go weeks without communicating back. When the client follows up, they often hear that the job has been filled.

Those barriers can lead to long periods of unemployment for the deaf.

“I know people who apply constantly for jobs for four or five years, especially if they are deaf plus another disability,” Mower said.

She suggests companies consider accommodations in their budgets. She wants the deaf to be assertive, suggesting they use notes apps on phones to communicate, and pointing out that they wouldn’t need an interpreter with them most of the time.

Still, Mower said the deaf have to work harder than the hearing to find employment.

“We have to do a lot more work and education than hearing people do,” she said.

Looking for work

After a few months of no success, Roberts is beginning to get discouraged about finding another job.

“It is hard for me to keep confidence in myself the longer it goes,” he said. “Because every time I face somebody who doesn’t understand deaf culture or working with deaf employees, the more and more uncertainty I start feeling with my future.”

In one message thread with a potential employer, the employer was interested in interviewing Roberts until learning that he’s deaf. He states he will get back to Roberts, and then never does. Roberts continued following up for weeks and never received an interview.

He believes he would already be employed if he was hearing.

He wants to advocate for himself, but questions if he wants to work for an employer who doesn’t know how to provide accommodations.

Roberts said companies question how he’ll communicate in daily meetings. He points out that they could easily send notes or instant message each other.

“There are options, but they just have their mind set on this in-person communication, and that is what scares them,” he said.

The strengths that come along with deafness are highlighted through the hashtag #DeafGain, which is a play off of hearing loss. Roberts said the deaf can be extremely focused on details and notice when something is wrong. They’re also less likely to get distracted.

All he wants is a chance — especially with companies who state they are an equal opportunity employer.

“I just wish companies knew that being deaf is not a disability,” Roberts said. “It is more diversity, and that we add diversity to their company and they can benefit from those different types of diversity.”

Finding a home

Ben Edwards has always been fascinated with buildings and how things fit into space.

“Growing up, I always liked drawing and building,” Edwards, who is deaf, said in ASL, according to a spoken English interpreter.

Edwards has worked as an architect with FFKR Architects in Salt Lake City for five years.

Finding employment hasn’t been easy. Edwards spent a year and half looking for a job after graduating from college. He’s gone unemployed for nine months, which he said was cut short because he was aggressive in taking part-time work. He went five years without a full-time job before he was hired at his current one.

“It was difficult because a lot of firms and companies tend to be very anxious about working with somebody who is deaf,” Edwards said.

He struggled with networking and had others make comments on his behalf.

He was also asked in job interviews how he’s going to communicate. That fear, he said, meant that other applicants who wouldn’t come with extra costs for interpreters would be hired over him.

His deafness wasn’t an issue for FFKR Architects. Edwards said they’ve provided him with interpreters for specific meetings, but also for social events and trainings.

“They are a great firm,” he said. “Very positive, very supportive.”

Edwards spends most of his workday at a computer, uses a pen and pencil or instant messaging to communicate and needs the occasional interpreter for meetings.

A few of his coworkers have learned ASL, something that didn’t happen at other jobs.

“I love this firm,” Edwards said. “They have been fantastic.”

Being deaf, he said, makes him more visual. Edwards said he has spatial awareness, knows how things tie together, and can ignore what’s happening around him and focus on work.

At work, Edwards walks around with a pad of paper and pens and has a second keyboard at his desk for instant messaging.

“Although the communication is different, it is like anyone else,” said Roger Jackson, the president of FFKR Architects. “You have to understand how they work and how they think, and you have to meet with them where they’re at and find a way to be together.”

Jackson said the company will assign Edwards tasks that are self-sustaining and don’t need a lot of follow-up and feedback, which they’ve done for hearing employees, as well.

When they found out Edwards is deaf, the company wasn’t fazed.

“We thought we could make this work, knowing that it can take effort on our part,” Jackson said.

Jackson said Edwards passed all of his architect licensing exams in a week, which is extremely rare.

The two went with a group when they were working on the new Provo Missionary Training Center. There wasn’t an interpreter, so Jackson walked with Edwards, wrote down what was happening and asked questions that Edwards had. The experience gave Jackson an idea of Edwards’s experiences.

“He’s perfectly capable,” Jackson said. “It is just communication is different.”

Courtesy UVU 

Utah Valley University students recently went down under to learn how to help their neighbors and communities survive and overcome a disaster. They spent two weeks in New Zealand studying how emergency service personnel and residents of Christchurch responded to two major earthquakes.

Utah County preparing for potential coronavirus cases

The Utah County Health Department is staying alert in case there are any local confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, but is assuring people to not panic or ostracize others.

“Part of what we do is to prepare for what never comes,” said Ralph Clegg, the executive director of the Utah County Health Department.

Utah has not had any confirmed cases of the coronavirus, though cases have been confirmed in Massachusetts, Illinois, Washington, California and Arizona.

The 2019-nCoV strand of the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province in China. The virus has been reported in tens of thousands of people.

The coronavirus has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization.

The virus’s symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. There is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment for the virus as of yet.

The United States reported its first confirmed case of person-to-person transmission on Jan. 30. The U.S. has also suspended entry into the country for foreign nationals who have visited China within the past 14 days.

The Utah Department of Health has activated its incident command structure in response to the virus and is monitoring the situation. It has recommended that residents avoid non-essential travel to China, to avoid traveling when sick and to wash their hands.

Intermountain Healthcare said in a written statement that it will support the Utah Department of Health in any way that it can.

“Intermountain Healthcare is working closely with local, state, and federal public health officials to follow best practice guidelines for this and any other infectious disease,” the statement reads. “Our clinicians are well prepared. Our infection control experts are mobilized and leading a coordinated effort to equip our clinical and support teams with protocols, communications, training, and supplies.”

Clegg said the Utah County Health Department has a weekly call with the Utah Department of Health and is coordinating with local hospitals.

He said the risk is low for Utah County because of the work international and national agencies are doing.

Lisa Guerra, the Utah County Health Department’s epidemiology coordinator, said people have called in with potential concerns.

In order for someone to have a confirmed case, they would need to be tested and have the sample sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Until then, they’d be considered a person under investigation. Guerra said there’s also what the department calls the “worried well,” which are people who have symptoms, but haven’t traveled, or someone who has traveled and doesn’t have symptoms.

Guerra said social media rumors swirling that the state has had a confirmed case aren’t true. She said false rumors hurt people, and that people should not shun Chinese nationals out of fear they could get the virus.

If there is a confirmed case, the health department would activate its internal protocols and would follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They are ever-changing,” said Curtis Jones, an epidemiology investigator for the Utah County Health Department.

The county health department would spread the word in the health community and could set up phone banks to answer questions from the public. It would also ask the individual who has the virus to self-isolate.

Guerra said the coronavirus is concerning to health professionals because it is new.

“We don’t know totally what the actual consequences of having multiple people with this illness might be,” she said.

There haven’t been many cases in the U.S., she said, because of the work of public health. The county health department points to the three measles cases the county had in 2015 as an example when it learned about the cases before the individuals went to church and school and were able to contain it.

“Had they gone to church on Sunday, it would have been a whole different scenario,” Clegg said.

Pleasant Grove likely to change dispatch services

After decades of having its own dispatch center for police, fire and other emergency calls, Pleasant Grove city leaders are engaging in negotiations to join Central Dispatch, the special service district that provides dispatch services for 21 other entities.

According to Scott Darrington, city administrator, the decision for the probable move is a financial one and is not driven by the service provided by the city’s dispatchers. “They have done a good job,” he said.

Darrington said that for the last few months, there have been difficulties with staffing the dispatch center.

“We were finding that we were struggling to have enough dispatchers to cover the shifts,” he said. “We started looking at how we can enhance our dispatch services.”

To keep dispatch services in the city, additional money would need to be spent each year to hire more full-time employees and raise the salaries of current employees. This would cost the city at least an additional $90,000 each year, according to Darrington. He said that one reason it may be difficult to find enough employees is because the city currently pays its dispatchers two to three dollars less per hour than what other cities are paying.

However, to join Central Dispatch, there would be an annual savings of about $145,000. The cost for the city to be part of Central Dispatch would be $297,000 per year, according to Darrington.

“We looked at what other cities were paying for the service with Central Dispatch. When we got those numbers, my eyes opened. There are potential cost savings,” he said.

The city’s public safety building was recently built and includes about 600 square feet of space that is used for dispatch. When the building was being designed three years ago, the possibility of consolidating dispatch services was explored, according to Darrington.

At that time, the possible savings were fairly minimal, he said. Since then, another full-time employee has been hired, it has become more difficult to recruit new employees with the city’s current pay, and the city now receives $40,000 less funding per year from the state.

Building the dispatch space in the new building cost $170,000. Part of the negotiations with Central Dispatch is that they would lease the space for an emergency backup site for their dispatch services for five years at a total of $90,000.

“At that time the city will have the option of taking back the space and using it for future growth of our police department,” Darrington said.

There are currently five full-time and 11 part-time dispatch employees in Pleasant Grove. “As we discuss this, we are discussing individuals that will be impacted,” Darrington said. If the employees so choose, they can have jobs with Central Dispatch.

The move will not be official until the city council authorizes an agreement in a future City Council meeting, date yet to be determined, according to Darrington. But the intent will be to join Central Dispatch. “The numbers for the city are overwhelming,” he said.