Do police tactics go too far? ACLU investigating

Posted at 9:54 PM, Mar 07, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - The American Civil Liberties Union says it’s hearing a common complaint across the country – that police have become militarized.

Now, the ACLU has filed records request in 20 states, including Utah. The state’s major police departments are all a part of the records request, from Ogden and Provo to St. George.

The ACLU says it filed the requests after complaints that Utah police were going too far.

"It was totally unnecessary."

That’s what Eric and Melanie Hill said three months after Ogden police mistakenly served a warrant at their home.

"I answered the door to assault rifles in my face," said Hill.

Ogden cops were looking for an army deserter but had the wrong house. They later apologized, then tightened the policy for serving late-night warrants but the ACLU questions whether the Hills' story is part of a growing nationwide trend.

"The anecdotal trend that we're noticing is that these tactics are used in everyday policing to serve warrants on minor drug dealers," said ACLU of Utah Legal Director John Mejia.

The ACLU is asking cops what kinds of weapons and vehicles SWAT teams have, when those weapons are being used and how much federal grant money is paying for all this.

"I think it's great that they're getting involved in it," said Hill.

But it’s not sitting well with some top cops.

"The suggestion that somehow we're adopting warlike to do urban law enforcement is outrageous," said Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder.

Some departments say they're using the same swat training programs they've had for years.

Others say tactics and technology are evolving. A Department of Homeland Security grant paid for Davis county's new tank, the "Bearcat." Two weeks ago deputies used the Bearcat’s gun to shoot and kill a bank robbery suspect following a high-speed chase.

"As the criminals become more militarized, then we in kind have to respond to that, our number one goal is public safety," said Davis County Sheriff's Capt. Arnold Butcher.

The ACLU says it's not against tactics and technology but what it believes is overkill.

The records requests may take several weeks to process and also asks police departments about agreements with the Utah National Guard. The Unified Police Dept. says it has an agreement but the guard only provides a supportive role, not training.

Related stories:
Ogden family’s police encounter a case of mistaken identity
Ogden mayor says warrant service at wrong house to be investigated
Ogden police criticized over warrant served at wrong house
Ogden police to make changes in warrant service after mistaken identity
Robbery suspect killed in 3-county chase
High speed chase, police shooting unfolds on social media
Suspect in 3-county chase had a criminal history