Police car lights

SALT LAKE CITY — A new report from the State Auditor’s Office suggests that the discipline handed out to Utah police officers in misconduct cases is more lenient compared to punishments implemented in other states.

The report, made public Wednesday, reviewed the past eight years of discipline records from the state’s Peace Officer Standard and Training, or POST. The audit then compared those orders of discipline with similar cases of discipline with six other states: Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The audit issued several findings regarding POST and the discipline of police officers.

The audit looked at several categories of misconduct, including driving under the influence, illegal drug use, falsification of government records, domestic violence and on-duty sexual conduct. Discipline of Utah police officers “appears lenient” compared to the other states, the report says.

For example, auditors found that a DUI charge against a police officer in other states likely would result in a revocation of their license to be an officer. In the states compared with Utah in the report, the revocation time ranged from five years to a lifetime ban depending on the state.

The report found that in the past eight years, Utah has never revoked an officer’s license in DUI cases.

To read the full audit, click here

A chart in the report shows that out of the five offenses listed, POST has only revoked an officer’s license in only 18 percent of illegal drug use cases reported to them in the past eight years. In the six states compared with Utah in the audit, 100 percent of officers caught using controlled substances had their license revoked.

In cases of domestic violence, all Utah officers caught only received a suspension of one to three years. In the other states, 89 percent of those officers in domestic violence cases had their license revoked.

For charges of falsifying government records, zero percent of Utah officers had their license revoked, and instead 78 percent of those caught were given a suspension of one to three years, with the remaining 22 percent of cases receiving either a year suspension or only a letter of caution. In the other states, 95 percent of those officers caught falsifying records had their license revoked.

“The result of giving more lenient disciple than other states is that unfit or untrustworthy officers could remain on duty,” the report read.

Auditors added that the lax discipline could undermine the officers’ agency as well.

The audit went on to indicate that certain “acts of dishonesty” that POST is not able to disciple officers for, “can undermine the effectiveness of an officer’s testimony in a criminal case.”

Later, the report outlined how investigators looked at internal affairs reports filed between July 2013 and November 2018 from three law enforcement agencies. They found six cases that should have been referred to POST for investigation, but were only investigated internally. Specifically, auditors found cases of improper use of the state’s Bureau of Criminal Identification, a class B misdemeanor; officers lying under oath to superiors; and a charge of interference with the visitation of a child, a class B misdemeanor.

Because these cases were not referred to POST, the cases could not be properly investigated and the organization’s ability to “manage and control officer certification is diminished,” the report read.

Another finding outlined in the audit indicated law enforcement agencies around the state have expressed concern that misconduct information regarding previously investigated officers is “not readily available to law enforcement agencies for hiring purposes.” The report went on to say that looking up discipline information is “lengthy and cumbersome,” and the process could discourage agencies from taking the time to access the information.

The audit also found that POST recently made efforts to keep up with the demand for necessary training for police officers, making adjustments in their training schedule. In the past five years, POST has nearly doubled the number of officer certifications.

Auditors recommended that POST and Utah legislators take into account the findings and address the issues laid out in the report. The State Auditor’s Office asked that all previously unreported misconduct cases be turned over to POST. They also recommended that POST regularly audit law enforcement agencies around the state.

In a response to the audit submitted by POST director Scott Stephenson, he claimed POST does not have the time or resources to audit agencies. Stephenson also wrote that all potential cases of misconduct are brought to POST and those that meet POST standards are investigated.

POST agreed with one recommendation that implored the state legislature to create penalties and discipline officers and agencies that do not comply with reporting requirements. POST also agreed with a recommendation to make disciplinary records easy to access to agencies for hiring purposes, but said that additional software would be needed to merge all record systems into an accessible format.

Jacob Scholl is the Cops and Courts Reporter for the Standard-Examiner. Email him at jscholl@standard.net and follow him on Twitter at @Jacob_Scholl.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!