Lawmakers Tackling Rules On Police Use of Force

cop barIn relation to national events, the coincidental timing of Tuesday’s Administrative Rules Review Committee hearing was telling of an overall concern about the use of police force Monday on Capitol Hill.

“This is not a trial on any particular incident – we are talking about how is training given… we want to use this as an educational forum, [and] if we find areas of improvement, we will make that recommendation.” said Representative Curt Oda (Republican – Centerville), who co-chaired the hearing, adding that if there are areas that go beyond training to address underlying concerns, the committee intends to address that as well.

The committee was moved by the words of Clint Anderson, who told the group that he has suffered from psychotic episodes wherein he would hear voices – and where such events have sometimes resulted in arrests. These arrests, Anderson feels, were largely due to a lack of training on the part of law enforcement to know how to handle situations such as his while in the field.

Anderson would speak to the importance of positive interactions with law enforcement that can only come about through training. “It is not ‘where have you been, what are you doing?’ [from an officer], it’s more ‘what’s going on, what can I help you with?… It’s not so much what is said but how it is said.” He would conclude that understanding is key

Representative Lee Perry (Republican – Perry), an officer with the Utah Highway Patrol when not wearing his legislative hat, was quick to tell lawmakers that training is only effective after officers have been in the field for some time and that there is a very real cost to small town communities when an officer leaves for 40 hours of training, both from a public safety and budgetary standpoint.

“Every officer wants to come home at the end of the day and when [they] encounter something that they don’t understand, or something that is problematic, that may dictate how they behave. That is why training is so important,” Perry emphasized.

Perry would go on to tout the importance of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) in order to help reduce the number of negative outcomes in the field, but cautioned that there is no cure-all. Likewise, dashboard and body cameras too will not fix all; noting that these skills “are another tool in the tool belt that we should encourage, and possibly help fund.”

Though the group focused on officer safety, protection, and training, two senators felt that deeper questions needed to be asked in order to properly address the shift in perception a growing number of the public are experiencing.

“I have a grave concern that we are talking to the choir here… we need to hear the story not so much from our prosecutors and our police officers who tell us that everything is fine,” stated Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City). “Where are the victims? Until we can embrace those kinds of witnesses, I think we are not going to hit the nail on the head, to get to the core of the problems,” Dabakis said. Representative Oda noted that Dabakis could submit a list of individuals to speak to the committee, adding that the ACLU and the Libertas Institute were available.

Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) also expressed concern about the apparent imbalance between an officer’s duty to uphold the law, and a citizen’s Constitutional right to due process and equal protection.

“I wonder if [anyone has ever said] ‘I am going to allow the citizen more freedom, and I am going to sacrifice my absolute control’ in order to go down a path of deescalation. It seems like that is the only way we will have anything meaningful come out of this. You don’t have to be impaired or mentally ill to not want to lose control of your life,” adding that “faith [from the public] has been broken, that trust has been broken… to crack this nut we have to go a lot further.”

Because lawmakers are unable to craft formal policy decisions until the 2016 legislative session, it was made clear to the public that the committee intends to use the intervening months to properly study the issue.

Not wanting to lose momentum, the group will meet again in early May.

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