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Should there be one Utah standard for when police can use force? NAACP, Senate committee say yes

SHARE Should there be one Utah standard for when police can use force? NAACP, Senate committee say yes
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Cadets do standing long jumps as they train at Peace Officer Standards and Training in Sandy on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to require Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council to set statewide use-of-force standards swiftly cleared its first legislative hurdle Thursday.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher’s SB106 won unanimous endorsement from the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee after a brief presentation and no debate. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Currently, local law enforcement agencies set their own minimum use-of-force policies, including rules regarding de-escalation and when increased levels of force are appropriate.

With SB106, Thatcher, R-West Valley City, and House sponsor Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, Utah’s only Black legislator, seek more uniform use-of-force standards to be established across the state — and a requirement that police officers and law enforcement agencies comply with and enforce those minimum standards.

Thatcher and Hollins’ legislation is among dozens of police reform bills filed for this year’s annual legislative session after last year’s summer of unrest spurred by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The Deseret News explored the concept of whether Utah needs statewide police standards after an August protest in the suburb of Cottonwood Heights left both police and protesters with bloodied faces and broken bones.

“I think we’re all aware of the things that transpired during this past summer and some of the difficult and painful conversations that those events have caused,” Thatcher said.

Thatcher said the NAACP Salt Lake Branch “has been working very hard on these issues” in conjunction with law enforcement leaders and the Utah Department of Public Safety, and the result is SB106.

“This is the first time that we have as a state set a precedent or that we will set a precedent that there is a statewide standard for use of force,” Thatcher said. “We’re very excited for this bill.”

Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which is mostly made up of members of law enforcement but also community members, would set statewide use-of-force procedure requirements that all local law enforcement agencies would have to use as a baseline for their own policies. The bill would also require the council to review that standard annually.

Jeanetta Williams, NAACP Salt Lake Branch president, thanked Thatcher and Hollins, as well as law enforcement officials for their work on the bill.

“We all realize that officers are involved on a daily basis in numerous and very public interactions, and when warranted may use objectively reasonable force while carrying out their duties,” Williams said. “SB106 will give standards and guidelines related to the use of force and best practices. This bill is designed to provide guidance to police and not to be critical.”

Two other use-of-force bills — House Minority Assistant Whip Jennifer Dailey-Provost’s HB237 to narrow when a police officer may use lethal force, and Rep. Kera Birkeland’s HB154, defining when a police officer can use force — have not yet been given hearings.

Meanwhile, some other police reform bills have been making their way through the Utah Legislature.

The House also voted unanimously Thursday to give final approval to SB13, sponsored by Senate Minority Assistant Whip Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, which seeks to ensure a police officer can’t skirt an internal investigation simply by jumping to a new police department. Currently, if a police officer leaves an agency in the middle of an internal investigation, the investigation is dropped.

SB13 was inspired by a former University of Utah police officer who showed explicit photos of slain student Lauren McCluskey to other officers, according to an independent investigation. The officer left the university before the internal affairs investigation was completed and was later hired at the Logan Police Department.

The House on Wednesday also gave final approval to SB38, also sponsored by Thatcher, which would require annual certification of K-9 officers and their handlers. The bill comes after Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall suspended then censured the Salt Lake Police Department’s K-9 program after a review found 18 questionable dog bites dating back to 2018. Mendenhall called the findings a “pattern of abuse.”

Both SB13 and SB38 go to Gov. Spencer Cox’s desk for consideration.

The House on Thursday also approved HB59, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, which would make it a crime for a police officer to share intimate images to anyone who is not part of an investigation. The bill was also inspired by the incident involving the same former University of Utah police officer. The bill now goes to the Senate.

The House also voted without debate to forward HB58  to the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, is aimed at rioters. It would require a person arrested for rioting to appear before a magistrate before being released from jail. It would also require a judge to order the person to pay restitution if convicted. The bill now goes to the Senate.