Ogden police adapting to Legislature’s law enforcement reform bills
Protesters clash with police officers near the district attorney's office Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Two police officers in Utah were cleared earlier in the death of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, an armed man shot at more than 30 times as he ran from police, a decision that prompted his grieving family to heighten their calls for systematic changes to law enforcement.
Ogden Police Chief Eric Young is pictured in his office at the Francom Public Safety Building in Ogden on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. Young took over from Randy Watt as chief on Jan. 12, 2021.
OGDEN — Ogden Police Chief Eric Young says his force is ready for Utah’s newly enacted law enforcement reform bills, and in some cases the agency already is far ahead.
Young and other top police across the state were involved in the legislative process this year as lawmakers ordered changes such as minimum use of force standards and mechanisms for establishing citizen advisory boards. Many of the changes went into effect May 5.
“There were a lot of ideas that needed a lot of tweaking,” Young said of the reform bills. “The legislators are open to listening and working with us on substantive reforms, not just to make a splash.”
Those measures included House Bill 334, which mandates that all officers will receive training in autism awareness and mental illness. Motivation for the bill stemmed in part from controversy over the shooting of a boy with autism by Salt Lake police last year.
“We’re actually well ahead of the curve,” Young said, noting Ogden police have a virtual training environment that is being bolstered with specific training on autism scenarios.
He said a few community members who have autistic family members are participating so police can get their feedback on real-world experiences of people with autism.
Young said he has a family member with autism, “so I’m clearly aware” of the training need.
In another example of legislative attention to life-or-death police matters, Senate Bill 106 requires statewide uniform standards on use of force by police and mandates that all police agencies meet the standards.
“We’re already up to date on all the case law and, to be frank, most use of force policies are very, very similar,” Young said, so he expects it will not be difficult to find a consensus.
SB 106 directs the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, or POST, to establish the standards and review them annually.
Use of force policies everywhere gained closer attention after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who pinned Floyd’s neck to the pavement for more than nine minutes. In a special session later last year, the Utah Legislature banned police chokeholds.
Various community activists and members of the Ogden Diversity Commission have discussed use of force and other police issues with Young and his predecessor, Randy Watt, and Young has stated willingness to continue a dialog.
Senate Bill 157 directed the Utah Department of Public Safety to create a program to help cities set up citizen advisory boards, perhaps to give communities a more structured way of sounding off on policing matters.
“We have discussed it,” Young said, “to look at a better way to, in a sense, have a public safety subcommittee of the city council.”
He envisions that whatever citizen advisory entity may take shape, “it’s going to be kind of a two-way street.”
“We’re not going to have them review cases or give judgments on them, or make requests on use of force,” he said, but it “will allow us to share information in a more transparent manner.”
“We’ll also talk about what happens in assaults on officers or when they’re spit on or kicked,” Young said.
Working with the Diversity Commission and having town hall-style meetings where police matters can be discussed are also beneficial, he said.
Another of the reform bills, Senate Bill 13, is intended to prevent an officer under internal investigation from eluding scrutiny and punishment by quitting one agency to move to another. The bill requires police departments and POST to provide information to a hiring department upon request and requires agencies to report certain internal investigations to POST.
Two other bills aim to help police departments in a couple of key areas: recruitment and retention, and officer well-being.
Senate Bill 102 allows certain non-citizens who have permanent United States residency to apply to become police officers or dispatchers.
“We’ve already seen people who are interested,” Young said. The Ogden department, like most others in Utah, has struggled not only with overall retention but also with increasing the diversity of the force.
“Just as the U.S. military has learned the value of national service by non-citizen legal residents, Utah law enforcement will learn the value of these candidates, particularly across language and cultural barriers, as they have opportunity to serve their communities and their chosen state,” the Utah Chief of Police Association said in support of SB 102.
Meanwhile, House Bill 248 gives the the state Community Mental Health Services agency $500,000 to run a mental health resources program for first responders. That includes police, paramedics, firefighters, dispatchers and corrections officers.
“Mental wellness plays a significant role in the retention of qualified and experienced first responders … as well as in the prevention or interdiction of behavioral issues resulting from the mental traumas associated with emergency response,” Ken Wallentine, president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said in a prepared statement about HB 248.
Wallentine, who is West Jordan’s police chief, said the reform bills from the 2021 Legislature overall resulted in “key community reform efforts being met while maintaining the integrity of effective public service practices.”