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A soap opera of a bill

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There was a simple solution to Rep. Kory Holdaway's concerns over the Granite School District Police Department. The Taylorsville Republican could have asked a legislative colleague to sponsor a bill to abolish the controversial agency. He still could have testified on the bill's behalf. Then, Holdaway, who teaches in the Granite District, would have been an arm's length from the simmering controversy.

But after it was revealed that Holdaway's son had been arrested by the Granite Police Department after a fight, the issue was tainted by allegations of political payback. Holdaway, appropriately, has backed off the bill.

The unfortunate victim in this episode is Holdaway's son. Reports that are, by law, confidential were leaked to the newspaper by the spouse of a Granite School District police officer. Holdaway said he also received telephone calls from several women, who would only provide their first names, accusing him of "ulterior motives" in pushing the legislation. What a Peyton Place.

Another loser is the legislative process. This issue has become so polluted with allegations and blame that it is impossible for the Legislature to debate the respective merits of a school district police department.

Then again, this issue rightly belongs before the Granite Board of Education. It could be readily argued that an in-house police department is a duplication of services. Sheriff's deputies or officers from cities where Granite schools are located could provide the same type of services, as they do in other school districts.

At a minimum, the school board must address the scope of the department's duties. Granite police are certified under the state Peace Officers' Standards and Training requirements so they should presumably have the same training as officers serving municipal departments. But are high-speed chases and other intensive types of police work the purview of a school district police department? As Holdaway suggests, the legal liability for police work gone awry could negate the financial benefits the school district claims by virtue of an in-house police department.

The public deserves answers to all of these questions.

The issue came to a head after Granite Lt. Todd Rasmussen was charged with armed assault in the October shooting of an unarmed burglary suspect. The shooting was the culmination of a high-speed chase in Salt Lake City, which is outside Granite School District boundaries. However, police officers have statewide jurisdiction.

As Rasmussen's case unfolds in criminal court, the Granite School District needs to take a hard look at its police department and assess if it serves its desired purpose. The school board should take this opportunity to either tidy its nest or face up to the very real possibility that another of Holdaway's legislative colleagues will wrest control of what is rightly a local issue.