By now, Americans ought to be aware that police brutality, while rare, is an issue that must be addressed and eradicated. They also ought to know that this brutality often seems to be directed toward people of color. 

The question is what to do about it.

At least one member of the Utah Legislature, with the backing of the NAACP, thinks he has some answers. Given the current heightened awareness and protests, his proposals may be worth a special legislative session to consider. 

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, has opened three bill files intended to address issues related to current events resulting from the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. While details are still scant, one bill would deal with allowable use-of-force methods, perhaps including whether police can use chokeholds. Another would make the misconduct of police officers public information in an effort to increase accountability. The third would establish a citizen review board to review allegations.

Could chokeholds, knee holds be banned in Utah? New legislation to aim for police reforms

Some of these things already exist in parts of the state. Salt Lake City, for instance, has a police civilian review board. It’s not clear how Thatcher intends to organize such a board, or what its jurisdiction would be. He made a point Friday of saying he is a facilitator bringing various groups together to decide on a proper course of action, not necessarily a leader in the effort.

He also said the process of working through the details, with help from many organizations, could begin next week.

The process of discussing and working through the details of these efforts is important. We urge that they be as transparent as possible.

The array of groups assembled at a Friday press conference to announce the beginning of these efforts was impressive. It included the government affairs liaison for the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, whose support will be critical to any effort to get legislative votes. It also included Attorney General Sean Reyes.

Also mentioned at the press conference was the need for police departments to demilitarize. In recent days, scenes from protest sites include police in armored military vehicles. In recent years, many departments have acquired such vehicles, and other military styled equipment, to help deal with difficult situations.

But passing a bill outlawing such a thing in Utah may not be politically possible at this time. Police are likely to argue that rioters and looters make such equipment necessary.

The immediate need now is to address systemic racism wherever it exists, promote transparency in agencies and ensure accountability.

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Earlier this week, the Salt Lake chapter of the NAACP announced it is working with the Utah Fraternal Order of Police to develop a strategy to “foster dialogue and understanding between the police and the communities that they serve.”

The immediate need now is to address systemic racism wherever it exists, promote transparency in agencies and ensure accountability.

Local NAACP president Jeanetta Williams said the organization has a long and trust-filled relationship with police. She noted that the Fraternal Order of Police has denounced both the death of Floyd and the damage caused nationwide by rioters and looters.

Utah is fortunate to have such good relations between these groups. And yet Williams was right when she said in her prepared remarks that “racism penetrates our policies and institutions. It affects what people have and don’t have access to, and the amount and quality of services they get.” This, she said, affects everything from health care to education, employment and housing.

A concerted and united effort to bring greater accountability to police departments would be a good start. We would hate to see it wait until the January regular legislative session, however, when today’s passions may have cooled. The time to address these issues is now.

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