State lawmakers address reporting on police use of force

Wednesday , June 24, 2015 - 6:26 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – Legislators do not know how many police use of force fatalities have occurred in Utah.

Ken Wallentine, former chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General, spoke at the Law Enforcement Interim Committee meeting. He reported that one police related shooting happens about “once every 10 to 12 weeks” in Utah. However not all of these incidents result in a death.

Wallentine criticized the federal government for “not having done a great job of keeping statewide statistics” on police shootings. The 2015 legislative session passed a bill requiring law enforcement agencies in the state to collect data on use of force incidents as well as situations enlisting SWAT. The committee debated if the information is enough.

Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, represented the law enforcement administrative rules committee. He explained the rules committee’s purpose is to review rule and statutory issues. “We (the administrative rules committee) make recommendations for the interim committee for possible changes with police trainings, psychological evaluations, body cameras, and other law enforcement topics,” Oda said.

One recommendation they made was to increase data reporting for police incidents.

Wallentine argued the media worsens the missing data effect by creating a false image of law enforcement. “How long does it take a crime to be solved? Most would answer 42 minutes,” Wallentine said referring to the length of a TV program without commercials. “It’s just not reality.”

He also stated the public largely sees white police officers shooting young black men. Wallentine referred to a United States Department of Justice report which found that officers are two times more likely to shoot and kill a young white male than any other group.

“No one has the right to kill. The intent is to stop the threat,” Oda said speaking on police force. He praised Utah’s use of force statute for its clear language in presenting that idea.

Wallentine agreed naming Utah’s policy as “one of the best articulated statutes” in law enforcement. He also presented Utah’s fair interrogation methods as an example that Utah “has been at this juncture before.” Ten years ago the legislation passed a bill requiring officers to record interrogation recordings. Relations with the public improved after the bill passed.

Yet Wallentine also warned about relying solely on video, as footage often lets viewers form an objective truth. “There’s no ‘if then training’, no magical answer for which procedure to take,” Wallentine said. “At the end of the day we have to trust the good judgment of the officer on the scene, in the basis of the policy.”

He suggested to focus on rewarding officers who are involved in their communities as one best practice to increase public trust in law enforcement. He also encouraged citizens to get to know their own city’s police chief. He promised the committee they would get a good return on investment with a law officer who is engaged in their own community.

“Our task is to weave greater trust,” Wallentine said speaking of state law enforcement. He quoted from Plato’s The Republic, encouraging the committee “to find the most noble, the most virtuous, the most spiritual and make them your guardians.”

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